Awakin Calls » Elisabet Sahtouris » Transcript
Elisabet Sahtouris: Ecosophy: Nature's Guide to a Better World
Amit: Today our guest speaker is Elisabet Sahtouris. She embodies our theme of "Ecosophy: Nature's Guide to a Better World." Elisabet recently shared in a syndicated DailyGood.org article about the fact that we as human beings have always been storytellers. Whether we're creating those stories from religion, from the researches of science, from the inspirations of different artists or writers, or the experience of our own lives, we live by the stories we believe in and tell to ourselves and to others. As a global community, one problem has been the worldview and scientific story of a non-living material Universe, which has given rise to a world in which we are consumers of material goods and natural resources. However, there is a newer, emerging story supported by science in which we are actually co-creators of this Universe. We're asking ourselves, "What are some of the new stories we are living into?" Maybe we could have our remarkable moderator, Aryea Coopersmith, kick off our circle and share a few thoughts before he leads us into a conversation with Elisabet.
Aryea: My reflections are about the radical challenge to our thinking on the deepest levels that Elisabet is really offering to us... a way of seeing ourselves and our species and our world in a very, very different way that offers a hope and a way forward at this time of crisis. I'd like to get right into saying a few words of introduction about Elisabet. She's an internationally known evolutionary biologist, futurist, author, and consultant to all kinds of organizations, government and business, on embodying the wisdom of nature and how we design our social structures.
She's written a number of books including "A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us," another one called "Biology Revisioned" co-authored with Willis Harman, a more recent one called "EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution," and her current Kindle book, "Gaia's Dance: The Story of the Earth & Us." That most recent book is taking all of the science she has brought together in her worldview and telling it like a very simple story, like a child's story.
My response to going through Elisabet's books and articles has been kind of mixed because on the one hand, the worldview and the challenge to us is so compelling, and on the other hand there's so much scholarship and science in there that I have to stretch my brain to get to it. I really love the idea of a conversation and a story as a way for us to be introduced to this.
Elisabet is a Fellow of the World Business Academy. She's an advisor to EthicalMarkets.com and the Master's in Business program at Schumacher College. She's affiliated with the Bainbridge Graduate Institutes and the AID program. She's a UN consultant on indigenous peoples. She's lived extensively in Greece, in the Peruvian Andes, and she now lives in Mallorca, Spain. In the first week in April she'll be in the Bay Area visiting her daughter, a physician at Highland Hospital.
Elisabet, thank you so much for taking the time this morning and sharing the wisdom of Nature that you have been uncovering with us.
Elisabet: Thanks, Aryea, it's lovely to be with you.
Aryea: In terms of our conversation, I'm thinking of this in three parts: You talk so much about the story of the evolution of all life and lifeforms on this planet. I would like to start by asking you to share with us a little about your own story of your personal evolution to the calling you've had and the work you're doing now. In the second part, I want to ask you to share with us your view of the story of our living planet and life on this planet. In the third part, I want to ask you, "What are the practical implications for us, on this call, for how we might think about our lives and the kinds of choices and decisions we might make?”
Let's start with my curiosity about your personal story. My wife and I had some friends over to lunch yesterday and they came from all parts of the world. We were reflecting on the amazingly complex sequence of events that happened in order for us to be sitting having lunch at the same place and time. One of our friends remarked that the way he experiences his life is that it's like being a passenger in a moving vehicle. When he looks out the front window, it's foggy and he can't see where the road is going. When he looks out the back window it's clear. It's clear to him, the path that his life has taken.
So I want to ask you if you would share with us about your evolutionary journey, starting with your childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood -- some of what stands out as key points along the way that have led you on the journey you've been on.
Elisabet: Let me say first that because I am a planet person, I am aware that here I am on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Mediterranean, and "Medi-Terra" means "Mid-Earth." I've always thought of it as the Mid-Earth Sea, having lived in both Greece and Spain on it for quite a lot of time. You are all the way over on the West Coast of North America in California. Our technician, Amit, is on the East Coast, the Atlantic Coast. So we're having a pretty planetary conversation here. I hope we've got people in lots of other wonderful places in the world. I'm on my way shortly to Hawaii to live, which is in the middle of the biggest pond of all. I wanted to call attention to that.
You talked about your visitor who said it's foggy up front, but clear behind. That reminds me of a wonderful story I heard, while living in Greece, about Socrates. Just before he died, one of his students said, "Master, how did you see the path ahead so clearly that you could follow it so truly?" And Socrates responded, "I never saw the path ahead. However, I could always tell, I always had a gut feeling when I was off my path, and therefore I could stay on it."
I thought that was one of the most wonderful pieces of advice I'd ever heard. At the time, I was envious of people who had spirit guides and who saw their future ahead and knew exactly what to do in their lives. Here we are on this roller-coaster ride in our world now, and none of us can see the path ahead clearly. So it does pay to look back. That is why I became a deep "past-ist," in order to be a good futurist. Knowing the long evolutionary trajectory of our coming into this world as humans helps us to figure out what we can learn from four billion years of past experience of the Earth in trying out living systems. So I became a deep "past-ist" in order to be a good futurist.
As to your question, as a child I was already asking the big questions that I didn't know were the great philosophical questions of all time: "Who are we, where did we come from, and where are we headed?" By the time I was about eight or nine years old, I was interested in biology. I had the good fortune to grow up in the Hudson Valley. I was actually born in Athens, New York, and later became a Greek citizen (laughing).
I was free to explore Nature on my own, no grownups watching. I wrote a poem called "No Grownups Watching" for kids, on Earth Day. I got to explore, to climb high trees, to cross fences that said "No Trespassing," to walk on thin ice with no grownups watching. I noticed that my own grandchildren didn't have that freedom in Nature, that they were always watched, and it drove me a little nuts at times. It’s not the same world. We can't trust our children to Nature in the way my parents could when I was a child.
I wanted to study science. My parents, however, said science was a boy's subject. I finished high school at 16 and they said, "No, art school --- art and music and culture and things like that." I insisted on going to the university and got myself a four-year room, board and tuition scholarship, so they had to let me go to a university. I did study art because of my parents still being in control to some degree. Only after I got a degree in art did I go back to graduate school and become a scientist, as I always had wanted to. My art background serves me well now. I make beautiful slides to go with my lectures and have an artistic flair about what I do.
I did eventually become a scientist. I also got interested eventually in spirituality when I started to question whether science was the only possible worldview, and I was very interested in what was going on in the world because I lived through World War II as a child. I was outraged by the injustices of it and swore that would never happen again and would do whatever I could to prevent it. So I got into "How did economics determine politics?" and all of those questions.
My life has been about braiding those three things together --- interest in science, in spirituality, and in economics and politics. That helped me develop a big-picture worldview, a coherent worldview, because I always felt that whatever I learned in any of those three areas had to be fit into a consistent worldview so things didn't contradict each other. When I did have contradictions I learned to hold them and let them work themselves through and to see from higher perspectives, from which you can view the relationship between things that are apparently contradictory.
That's my trajectory in a nutshell.
Aryea: As you speak about your life trajectory, you've brought up all the different spots on the planet where we are right now talking to each other. I'm struck by how many places you've been and lived --- the Peruvian Andes, in Greece, and where you are now in Mallorca...
Aryea: Would you say a little about that? About how you got from graduate school in the U.S. to find yourself in all these places around the world?
Elisabet: Somewhere in the 70's I felt that the worldview taught to me by science was a suit that was too tight. I had to break through it. I had the wonderful good fortune of meeting Henry Miller, the writer, not to be confused with Arthur Miller, the one that Marilyn Monroe married, the playwright. Henry Miller was a rule-breaker, a maverick who had lived in Paris and was an artist and writer and broke all the rules about talking about sex and books. We all read his smuggled books when we were young because they weren't available to society at large.
Henry gave me a taste for Greece because he had written a wonderful book called "The Colossus of Maroussi." He and I had a lot of time to have long, wonderful conversations while the person who had brought me to Henry was out researching in the library. That was a very influential time in my life. It was a short period, but I decided that I, too, wanted to go to Greece --- that I wanted to study ancient healing centers and interesting things far from science. I went to Greece saying "I'm going to write novels to explain the human condition to myself, because science isn't answering my big questions." That's how I got to Greece. I got a taste for moving around the world.
I came back to the States. By the way, during the 60's I had been up in Canada and had study groups of people all over the world, trying to figure out what was the human condition. So I had already had a background in foreign travel.
When I was in Washington I got the spirit call to go to Peru and decided to follow it. Ever since then I've occasionally gotten these very clear calls that come out of the blue to me telling me where to go. If I jump on it and am impulsive and go, things work out and sometimes I find out later how I was drawn to that place.
I have moved around and it's usually been in that impulsive way. I'm a great freedom kind of person who likes to keep myself light. Even though I raised two children and stayed put for their infancy and childhoods enough to get them into adulthood, I love traveling around the planet. Now I'm in my eightieth year and bopping off to Hawaii on one of those spirit-calls. I'm already involved in a massive project for making Hawaii economically resilient in the spirit of Aloha.
Aryea: Talk about rule-breakers, I wonder who's the bigger rule-breaker, Henry Miller or you?
Elisabet: One of the things that have always been fascinating to me is to get absolutely opposite perspectives on the same thing. I used to sit around with MIT professors discussing our society in the mornings and then at night work with Black inmates in the prison to see what their perspective on our society was. Or go to Costa Rica and dance reggae in the jungle one day and then have cocktails in the presidential palace the next day.
Somehow my life worked out in order to get these amazing experiences from opposite perspectives. And that, I think, helped me to expand my worldview and to be more tolerant of other people's worldviews --- to recognize eventually that we do live by our stories and that we create our stories through our experience. I used to give workshops where I asked people questions like what they thought about religion and humanity at the age of 10 and then at the age of 20 and then at the age of 30. To give them three levels in their lives, to see how their stories changed. Then to look into, "Why did they change, what makes you change your stories?" More often than not, it's crises that make for big changes in people's worldview stories.
That's very interesting to me, because here we are as humanity as a whole now having created this perfect storm of crises, and we're having to change our story. We've been living by the Darwinian story of fierce competition --- that people are self-interested only. Capitalism has been has been based on this Darwinian story.
When I looked back through evolution I saw that that was not all of it; that there was another part to the story, that the species are feisty and competitive and very creative in their youth, and then it comes to the point where it gets too expensive to keep bumping off all your competitors and actually becomes less costly to start negotiating with each other and form cooperative unions that help you to get to a cooperative, mature phase in life.
I now see humanity right at that tipping point, where we're in our adolescence, we've lived by this "Hero's Journey" story, it's globalized us, and now we get to do the really interesting stuff of weaving ourselves together in cooperative ways in a gifting society way that Nipun has so brilliantly pioneered for us.
Aryea: You talk about the human species having reached the point of destructiveness of our adolescence that is resulting in multiple crises the world is in now, and then the opportunity to reach into our maturity. I know that in your various writings, you talk about how this has not only been the case with us, but it's been built into the evolutionary process of life itself. Can you say more about that?
Elisabet: Half of evolution was all about bacteria. They were the only life form of the Earth. I was very influenced by Jim Lovelock's books on Gaia, the "living earth" concept, and his partner in that project, Lynn Margulis, who looked into the microbiology of the first half of evolution.
To make a very long story short, two billion years of it, microbes, bacteria, did a huge amount of creative, inventive stuff over that long period of time that actually rearranged the Earth's crust, created atmosphere as we know it, and changed the composition of the seas. They were so prolific and also, as the only life form on the planet other than ourselves, created global crises. They created the global crisis of hunger, for example, by using up all the free sugars and acids that had formed as food for bacteria on the surface of the Earth. In solving the food crisis by inventing photosynthesis, a way of making food out of what was still left, mainly sunlight and water and the minerals of the Earth's crust --- in creating food that way by photosynthesis --- they caused a global pollution problem because their waste gas was oxygen. We're always talking about how we have to take antioxidants because oxygen is a very corrosive gas. It was killing off a lot of the bacteria.
Eventually what happened when the competition got too costly was that those ancient bacteria formed the only other kind of cell ever to evolve on this planet, and that is the nucleated cells that we ourselves are made of. We have a hundred trillion of them in each of our bodies. There is this amazing complexity such that each of them were originally part of this bacterial cooperative where different bacteria got together and did a division of labor and worked out a way to give up some of each of their DNA to the central library we call the nucleus.
So our cells are actually ancient bacterial cooperatives. Some of the little bacteria are so identifiable in our cells, such as the mitochondria, which make all our energy, and they have their own DNA outside the nucleus, which are relatively new kinds of discoveries in the past decades of science.
Lynn Margulis, who worked with Jim Lovelock, put together that story of the symbiosis of ancient bacteria in forming the cells we're made of. Once that cooperation happened, these cells were new on the planet, so they had to go through their own youth. It took another billion years before they went to the next stage of evolution, forming their cooperatives as multi-celled creatures. That's what we are.
These were the two biggest steps in biological evolution --- the formation of the nucleated cell by the ancient bacteria, and the formation of the multi-celled creatures by those nucleated cells, those protists as they're called, literally meaning in Greek, "first builders" because they later build the multi-celled creatures.
Again, it was probably crises that drove this cooperation of multi-celled creatures. Humans are multi-celled creatures, so I'll skip over all the part of evolution biology that you all know, which is about things forming in the sea and coming out onto land. We learned that part in school.
Here we are, multi-celled creatures, humans, and humans actually went through this same maturation cycle at the tribal level. We're just learning this now. We're just digging up the first cities, which are the equivalent of the nucleated cells. Look at any city from an airplane by day or night and you see that there's a sort of nuclear center and then all these things going on around it --- the transport system, the energy, the banks, everything that goes on in the city --- each of your cells is as complex as a large human city. If you can grok that, multiplying that by a hundred billion times, it's almost unthinkable. But the fact is that our bodies are actually about halfway in size between the microcosm and the macrocosm --- (between) the whole Universe and the tiniest "Planck lengths" that physicists have dug down into --- billionths of inches.
These cities are just now being dug up in Central America and South America; in the Amazon, in the Orkney Islands, northern England, and Africa. We're finding that, all over, tribes got together cooperatively, probably primarily for trade purposes, and built these first cities. Then, exactly like the nucleated cells that the bacteria had built, they had to start over and go through their maturation. The cities went into the process we call empire building.
We're now in the third phase of empire building. In the first phase they were actually ruled by emperors and they expanded. They were acquisitive, just like all the youthful species are. The second phase was national empires, and now we're in the corporate empire phase, which has globalized us.
We have to do it once more. We again have to drop our creative hostilities and form the kind cooperative that the whole Earth is already. Humans have to create our cooperative within Nature.
Aryae: It is a mind blowing vision, Elisabet, to think of the level of complexity that you've described regarding our trillions of cells and what we need to do on a macrocosm level is the same as what happened on a microcosm level. This might be a good point for me to ask you, "What is ecosophy and how does that pull together the way of understanding what you've been talking about?"
Elisabet: Everybody's familiar with the terms "ecology" and "economy." Both of those words come from the ancient Greek "ecos," which means "household," a word the ancient Greeks used for all levels of organization, from the family household to the social household to the cosmic household. When you put that household word together with either "nomos" or "logos" to make "economy" or "ecology," the nomos is the rules of the household and the logos is the organization, the logic of the household.
We humans made our economies superior to Nature's ecologies. We saw ecology or our ecosystems as a set of resources we usually call "the environment," an impersonal word I don't particularly like. An "ecosystem" is more inclusive... were in it. That ecosystem has become subservient to the human economy. We've devastated our ecosystems. We've pillaged and plundered them in order to build a high-tech world in our youthful, creative expansion. What we have to do now is turn that around and make our economies subservient to the ecosystems, to the ecology. In other words, we have to learn how to live clean and green so we don't destroy Nature, because we still depend on it for our lives.
That is what I call the "ecos," the household, that is "sophos," or wise. The wise household is the one that neither separates ecology from economy, nor makes one subservient to the other. That is what I mean by "ecosophy." It's a term coined by several other people, including Arne Naess, the first person who used the word to get us to respect Nature, to understand the wisdom of Nature and to be more respectful of it. There was a French philosopher who used it in a somewhat different way. All of that is explained in my ecosophy article which is easy to click on and find online in Cosmos magazine.
Aryea: That is on the Daily Good for those of you who linked in to that. There's one thing I've been wondering about. So much of what you've done has been involved with consulting to organizations and business. When you're consulting with business leaders who presumably are driven, as they must be, by the bottom line and increasing shareholder value, what kinds of conversations do you have with them?
Elisabet: When I get business leadership in one-to-one conversations or in small groups, they can hear what I'm trying to say. For example, two years ago, I was in Istanbul with a very high level group of people from the boards and management of the biggest multinationals in the world. Companies like Siemens and Shell Oil and BP and Ikea and Microsoft. The really big ones, all together in one place.
What I said to them was "Thank you for being the heroes of globalizing our world. That was a necessary step for humanity. Now I'd like to invite you to become the heroes of the next phase, where we level off and become sustainable." Then I apologized for my field of science not having given them a story for it. They were following the Darwinian story and still in the youthful mode when we needed to grow up and mature. Then I gave them a one-minute elevator pitch about what it meant for us to mature and cooperate in a world that is exploiting each other and creating these enormous wealth gaps. You all know what the picture is nowadays. They can hear you when you're up-close and personal with them like that. But when they go back into their own environments, that new story isn't supported there. That's the real hitch. Just today I got an email from a young man who works for that foundation that I was with again this past year in Oslo. He said, "Finally, it is getting through, and the oil companies are recognizing that their time is up and that they're going to have to do something different."
I see this everywhere now, that 2015 is going to be this tipping point for us. That people can't ignore what is going on any more. That these big companies have to recognize that either they change and go with the new flow and work on clean, green energy or they're going to be out of business. I still have hope. But the important thing is ordinary people all over the world getting it. Because we're in for a very, very devastating time, and we have to start working now to at least create the sustainable pockets that can survive the disasters coming.
Aryea: It's fascinating for me, having done a little bit of corporate consulting in my career, to hear you say about how some of the leaders of the biggest corporations on a personal level will get it when you're talking with them, but then go back into their ecosystem and get pulled back. But then maybe they start bumping into each other. This reminds me of your story of the caterpillar and the butterfly, where those little butterfly cells and those caterpillars start finding each other. Could you share that story with us, and how that applies here?
Elisabet: It's not my story, first and foremost. It's the butterfly's own story. Secondly I got it from a lady named Norrie Huddle, who lives in Ecuador now and who wrote a wonderful children's book called "Butterfly," where she used this metaphor of metamorphosis for what's going on in our world. The caterpillar is a wonderful metaphor for our current economic system because it eats up to three hundred times its weight in a day as it munches its way destructively through its ecosystem, then is so bloated it hangs itself up to go to sleep and its skin hardens into a chrysalis.
Then while it's kind of dormant, there are these little imaginal cells (as the biologists actually call them, because the "imago" is the biological word for the forming butterfly, but it's also nicely about our imaginations, about thinking up new worlds, new stories, to live by). These cells are like stem cells that have been folded into the inside skin of the caterpillar all its life and now come out and join up with each other and form the butterfly literally as the caterpillar dissolves from within.
Here we are. We see these oil companies imploding. We're seeing Monsanto being exposed for toxins that are making us sick. All of these things are happening now and they are going to dissolve on us, because we're going to start living a different kind of future. That is what I mean by the imaginal cells building the butterfly, as Norrie (Huddle) said.
It's a nice metaphor because it's simple, and of course because the butterfly lives much more lightly on the Earth than the caterpillar did. It's nice to see that story as our new story. That regardless of how destructive it gets inside that caterpillar, we are at the same time building the new world.
We used to think that we would be like the "phoenix rising from the ashes" kind of story, where everything gets completely destroyed and somehow something new arises from it. But it's not like that at all. We have to do both at once. The old and the new worlds are living side by side or within each other right now. If we want to have a better future, all we have to do is start to create it now by living it now --- it means each one of us living the way we want people to live in the future, treating each other the way you want people to treat each other in the future, eating the kinds of foods you think will be good for people in the future, and taking care of your body in ways that you think will be good for people in the future. Then look around and see what previous generations did that you don't want to carry into the future, and don't carry it into the future. If one generation decides not to make war, war is gone. It's as simple as that.
At the same time that our bodies and our societies are so very complex, the essence of what's going on isn't complex at all. It is like the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly. It's like growing up as a species, moving out of the "hero's journey" myth into "What is that new story going to look like? How can we make it as ecstatically exciting as the hero's journey was?"
I'll tell you a lovely experience I had this past year at that foundation meeting in Oslo when Lord Brown, who was head of British Petroleum and is president of this organization, heard me talking about this new story and saying that we've got to make it about the ecstasy of forming new community. What happened was that his last line to that whole group of people, who really adore him, was, "And I loved Elisabet's concept of ecstatic community," which was a little bit of a twist on the way I used the words, but coming out of his mouth, they could hear it. That's what's so exciting. We have to give these things away and hope other people take them up.
Aryae: By answering my question, you're illuminating a path that, for each of us, we can do in our own lives in our own ways. I have just one more question and then we can hear what others want to ask as well. You're talking about transformation and your excitement. I want to ask you, “How pessimistic or optimistic are you that humanity can make this transformation in time? And why are you pessimistic or optimistic about this?”
Elisabet: "In time" is an interesting question, because it implies something like the old phoenix story, where there's some kind of a deadline, and if we do this before that happens, everything will be okay. It's not like that at all. It's a transformation. It's a gradual process. The faster we build the infrastructure of the new society, the stronger it will be and the better it will last. It's up to us how well we survive.
My spiritual view of things is that I'm a believer in reincarnation. I believe everybody on the planet is here intentionally. I think we came for this roller-coaster ride and that many of us who are in this kind of group are the ones who really want to guide it as well as we can into a positive future. I think Earth is a learning-place in the Cosmos where souls come who don't all have good experiences and good intentions, but are here to learn something about it. I don't see us moving into "paradise planet." I do see us growing up as a species. That's what I'm most interested in, and that's what I'm optimistic about for the simple reason that countless other species before us have done it. I believe we have made a big investment in being humans and I don't want to see that experiment fail.
I don't know how many of us will survive. I never get excited about people who are worried about population numbers because I think that's going to be taken care of regardless of whether we pass out condoms or whatever we do.
There's going to be disaster. That's the difficult part. I can tell you, 13 of the largest 20 cities in the world are at sea level. Scientists did not foresee how much moisture the atmosphere could hold. Already two years ago there was 40 percent more moisture in Earth's atmosphere than normal, what we have called normal in the past, and so we're seeing all those storms and dumping of ice and snow in New York and Boston and Washington, and cyclones colliding in Australia. All of these strange weather events are due to global warming even though people who are sitting in the snowstorms say "Ha! Everybody was wrong about that!"
But it's precisely because of the evaporated ice from the poles that these things are happening. If only one-third of the polar ice melts on Earth the sea level goes up 100 feet. We know that from past geology. This has happened before. That makes New York a lake. In thirteen of the largest 20 cities in the world, when the sea level does start to rise because spongy ice finally starts sliding off in domino sequences from Greenland and Antarctica, it will go fast. It will be a hockey stick curve.
The easiest way to tell people about global warming is without numbers. Just say to somebody, "Do you agree that the hotter it gets, the more ice will melt?" They're likely to agree with that. If you say "Do you agree that the more the ice melts, the hotter it will get, because there's less reflective ice to bump off the sunlight?" They'll agree to that. And then you say, "That is a positive feedback loop. The more the ice melts, the hotter it gets. The hotter it gets, the more the ice melts." It feeds on itself. It escalates. It turns into what we call a hockey stick curve that goes really slow for a long time and then suddenly leaps up.
That is what's going to happen. The sea level rise will probably be a few centimeters one day and maybe a few meters the other day. All those cities will be hit at once. First the sewage backs up, then the airports and piers are wiped out and there are no supplies coming in. There will be massive refugees. Hundreds of millions of people will be evacuating because we're not relocating the cities uphill as we should be. No sensible business would be living in the risk we're living in now without doing anything about it.
So, yes, I see terrible disasters coming, and yes, I see people who are on higher ground and are learning to live sustainably surviving this.
Aryae: Amit, I'd like to turn this over for others on the call to get into the conversation.
Amit: Absolutely, and I think maybe you can start packing to move a little more inland or higher up.
Aryae: We look down at the ocean, which is going to be washing across the highway into town, so we'll be thinking about that one. Maybe we'll get a helicopter (laughter).
Elisabet: Hydrogen balloons are going to come up back. They won't need nearly the airport infrastructure that we need for these big winged planes.
Mish: This is Mish in New York City. First I'd like to thank you so much. Listening to you has been a real eye-opener and has made me look at things very differently. This might sound like a silly thing to ask you, but living in New York City and being 67 years old, as I am, I'm wondering, when you talk about these coming disasters, is this something I'm going to see in my lifetime?
Elisabet: That's a good question, and a lot of people want to know when it's going to happen. What I like to say to them is, "We have a hard time predicting weather, but we can tell what the climate is doing because it's a much longer, slower curve, even though it's going fast now, in terms of the massive changes we've never seen in our lives before. But no one can say exactly when those ice chunks will start sliding in." We can say they will be doing it. We can say the sea levels are going to go up dramatically. But what we cannot tell you is whether that will be next month or whether it will be in two years or in ten years, or in 20 years. I really doubt that it will take that long.
The Canary Islands on the other side of the Atlantic from you have a huge volcano that, when it blows, will blow out the side directly aimed toward New York. There's a BBC documentary that ends with the words "It's not a question of whether this is going to happen; it's only a question of when?" That "when" will remain a question until that tsunami is crossing the Atlantic. It will be the biggest one in all human history. It will wash up Manhattan.
So what do we do? Lose sleep every night? Or recognize that you're an immortal soul and that whenever it happens, you are still going to be in this Universe? Or are you going to live in New York?
Mish: A friend of mine told me I should build a boat and learn to swim. Thank you for answering my wonderment, and thank you for all the knowledge you shared with us today.
Elisabet: The reason I do remain optimistic is because I see no payoff in pessimism, people. If you don't believe in life after death and you're very pessimistic and scared of dying, when you do die, you won't know it. If you were right that there wasn't anything beyond death, I'm not going to know it either, so I can't be proved wrong by being optimistic and saying, "Oh, yes, life after death is going to be wonderful." You have so much more fun as an optimist than as a pessimist. You just debilitate yourself if you're a pessimist, and if you're an optimist you'll do something.
Mish: Yes, total agreement with you there.
Mark: Hello, Elisabet. Mark Dubois here. It's great to hear you, and I'm in awe. I'm a little taken aback about your scenario for what your next decade or two faces. What's your sense of why science has been slow, and has clung to the Darwinian perspective? Why has that been missing? Why have the sciences condoned economists subserving all of this sacred planet into economics rather than the recognition of the reverse, that we're all part of a much bigger picture?
Elisabet: Mark and I last saw each other in Scotland at the New Story Summit up in the Findhorn Community this past September. We've known each other for a great many years. Mark is a very remarkable pioneer, crusader, fighter for Earth's health, and especially for saving rivers.
To your question: Science had been funded, first, when I was a graduate student in the 50's and 60's, by the military-industrial complex, and is still being funded. It shifted from the military to the industry part of that military-complex that's so interwoven. That whole complex is rooted in the world economy that's based on the Darwinian theory. That economy is the "hero's journey" economy, the youthful economy, the competitive economy, and it doesn't want to be proven wrong. It doesn't want to move into its mature phase. So the money keeps going to preserving that worldview. That's the simple answer.
Amit: Mark, it's wonderful, the two of you having an existing connection. Mark, we had you on an Awakin call as a guest last year. This was something I wanted to share with both of you, and maybe get both of your perspectives on that. One field that's been growing quickly is the field of biomimicry, basically an approach to finding solutions to different human challenges by trying to emulate Nature. There was an article in the Associated Press by Greg Blustein entitled "Scientists Are Taking Cues from Nature." One individual stated, "If you think of organisms as products, all the bad ones have been recalled." Those that have survived have evolved over millions of years. At the end of the article, it said every organism is designed to solve a problem. Looking at that from a biologist's perspective or from a Nature perspective, what would you say we were designed to solve?
Elisabet: Biomimicry was introduced by Janine Benyus in the book of that name. The word biomimicry has long existed in the field of biology, but was applied to those organisms that made themselves look like a different species for some reason of protection, such as a big moth that looks like an owl because the spots look like owl eyes, and therefore it doesn't get eaten. In my "EarthDance" book I had a whole chapter devoted to how all our technology has always copied Nature. Whether we learn to weave like spiders or fly like birds or tunnel like moles or try to copy our brains in computers, there's nothing else to be inspired by as a species other than other species of our planet.
We've always done biomimicry in that sense, but we haven't looked at how Nature does it. We just say "Oh, birds can fly. Let's learn how to fly and we'll do it better than Nature." And now, Janine came in and said, "No, we need to see how Nature does it and we need to copy more precisely what Nature has learned about making clean, green things."
We live in this technological economy where we heat, beat, and treat stuff we've extracted from the Earth, and we waste 94 or 96 percent of what we dig out of the Earth just to make the metals and things that we're going to put into our technology. A few years after we make the technology we toss it in a landfill, which is almost a hundred percent waste. We have to learn how to recycle everything the way Nature does, and not to make these toxics.
One of the points of humanity is that we have the kind of mind that can pretend we're apart from Nature and superior to it. Then we can learn that that is a losing tactic and still save ourselves. We have this ability to pretend we were different and superior to the whole game and in this Universe, and now we're learning that "Whoops!" we'd better backtrack a little and use these amazing minds we have to fit ourselves into the system.
Now, we have brought into the system really beautiful music, really beautiful art, dance -- not that other species haven't done some of that. But another thing humans do differently from other species is that we've learned to communicate through complex languages, while other species and our own cells only commune. They do direct transmission of information to each other. We don't even give them credit for doing that because Western science doesn't even acknowledge that Nature is intelligent, to start with. It doesn't realize that each of our cells couldn’t possibly lend it, each as complex as a huge human city with a thousand banks and 30,000 recycling centers, if it didn't commune, if each of your cells didn't know its place in the body on that communion level.
I distinguish between communion and communication, and communication is something ---language --- that humans brought in, but in a more complex way than species such as whales and dolphins, that do it to a certain extent, and birds and lots of other species, that also do it to a certain extent. But again we're trying out new things that haven't been done before.
My basic law of the Universe, by the way, which I see as a self-organizing, self-creating Universe that's all conscious, all intelligent, is that anything that can happen will happen. I think that's the only principal of Nature. I don't believe in laws of Nature. I believe in observing regularities. But I don't see a law-giver. In the course of self-organizing, certain regularities have happened because they worked well, and they continue. In a Universe in which anything that can happen will happen, humans are some of the most far-out experimenters the world has ever known, or the Universe has ever known perhaps. Maybe that's our claim to fame. We can push the boundaries further than other species and still recover from our transgressions.
Mark: Elisabet talked about how many things are going on in parallel to the old paradigm that is newly emergent everywhere. I would offer that my sense is, what’s invisible to most of us is definitely invisible to the media but there is this collective emergence in evolution that Elisabet so beautifully touched on. My sense is that we humans are in the very process of slowly learning to connect the genius of half of our brain to our hearts and our guts and to the other half of our brain that knows we are connected to everything.
And evolutionary maturity is learning that, rather than that genius is so disconnected, we're in the time of this privilege of learning how to put those in sync so that we've become the depth and beauty that Elisabet referred to in terms of what's been going on with this evolutionary journey becoming more beauty, grace, elegance, and dancing, and living in resonance and in a harmonic with a greater Universe that we've had our tuning cut out to for so long.
Elisabet: He's so right, and I don't know how I managed to forget that, so thank you for the reminder that the really, really wonderful task of humans is to bring cosmic love all the way down to our toes. To ground it, not just intellectually, and not even to the heart level, but all the way down to our toes. To bring cosmic love to Earth, fully embodied.
They say that angels are lined up for human bodies. There's a wonderful book by Byron Katie's husband (Stephen Mitchell) called "Meetings With the Archangel. " The protagonist is talking to the Archangel after he has written a book against angels. This big angel shows up in his yard and they have this long conversation throughout the book. Near the end, the angel says, "Don't look to us angels for compassion. We can't even feel passion. You have to have a physical body to vibrate passion. So you are here to bring compassion into the world through these physical bodies." That again is the same kind of story. And this is really a beautiful mission for humans, don't you think?
Amit: One of the things that you mentioned also Mark is this maturity that we have to gain, and is there a way to speed that up, is there a way to learn quickly, or does it end up just having to take its course? Will it be soon enough?
Elisabet: It's speeding up. It's speeding up fast now. There's nothing like a good crisis to kick species into action. When you know things are this bad, you really need to get through. Let's ground that cosmic love.
Mark: I don't know if we're five weeks, or five months, or five years before the equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling, before apartheid ended, before the civil rights movement had a name, before the first Earth Day. Nobody could predict any of those things a month beforehand. They looked purely impossible. The old paradigm had such a grip. My sense is that our hearts know this is absurd. To me, we are so close to the living in fear, saying "I'm going to change you instead of doing my inner work." Service Space has been pioneering this inner work. It's the time, to me, when we get to transcend living in fear, scarcity, and separation, and we get to live in that which you have been so elegantly saying as part of our evolutionary journey and living in this collaborative, cooperative beauty and grace and elegance. Thanks for pioneering it.
Elisabet: There's something we call "black swans," when you can't predict them and suddenly it's there on your screen. Nobody knew that there were anything but white swans until somebody finally saw black ones. There is a wonderful book on black swans (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable").
The newest one to me is the finance minister of Greece. I've been following Yanis Varoufakis for the past two years, as an amazing person. What he's role-modeling now is a whole new kind of politician -- a politician who's totally transparent, who doesn't the clothes he's supposed to wear as a politician, who just holds his ground and is so logical that no one can argue him down. It's causing such a flurry in the world for him to say, "Look, it's crazy to keep expending money to people and getting them deeper and deeper into debt. Lending them more and more money isn't going to get them out of debt. And even though things are so deep into this debt system, this credit system now, that he's had to make some compromises, he is rolling back austerity in Greece, as the first person who's been able to start that process going. He doesn't want to save just Greece, he wants to save the whole European Union. He's exposing the neo-liberal project, the whole project that in the U.S. was called the neo-conservative project, the Reagan-Thatcher economics that privatized the world in this juvenile mode of fierce competition and set up these huge economic inequities.
Here's somebody that just walks onto the political scene and says "Uh-uh, the emperor doesn't wear any clothes.” It's almost as good as the Berlin Wall, if not better.
Amit: Virginia Levin writes in that she lives in a retirement community of a thousand-plus residents. She asks "What gentle methods can be used to raise ecological consciousness? Our powers-that-be do much to encourage this area, but apathy is rampant."
Elisabet: The gentle ways are to tell new stories and to make sure our new stories really fire people with the ecstasy of forming true community and practicing that community on the most local level. In your retirement home, wherever you are. In your community. The spirit of Service Space. Doing nice things for people. Random acts of kindness. Gifting. Not always looking for a return. It's living the future as if it is already here. The one you want. That's the gentle way. Because you can't change other people. You can only change yourself. You have to become an attractor. You have to become a role model. Most parents figure out sooner or later that you can't puff on a cigarette and tell your kids not to smoke. You have to role-model the things you're trying to teach. If you're ethical, if you're transparent, if you're kind, if you're loving, other people will benefit from that and get a little more loving and kind themselves. It is gentle in that sense.
Sometimes we have to be fierce and stand up and say "No. You can't do this to me and my children and my grandchildren anymore." It takes all kinds. That's why I like to say, "However you want to change the world, make sure it's a way that makes your heart sing. It has to be something you're positively passionate about. You waste your time pointing fingers at all the people doing things wrong. You waste your time trying to tear things down. It only makes sense to role-model and to build that butterfly.
Amit: So well-put. Mark, thank you very much for your questions and for sharing your input. Our next caller seems to embody exactly what you just said, Elisabet.
Nipun: Having known you, a lot of your convictions are strengthened by profound experiences -- not just ideas. I was wondering if you could share any experiences, early on, that deepened your faith.
Elisabet: Part of me goes back to that Socratic story that says "I didn't see the path ahead. I didn't know where I was going, but I always knew when I was off my path." I think it's important for us all to cultivate our, pardon the expression, "Shit detectors," and also our "I'm off course" detectors, when you don't feel right about doing something.
One indigenous lady once said "Try for a while living with saying yes only to things that you can be a hundred percent behind as a yes." If you have any doubts or any qualms about something you're asked to do, say no. I try to live on the positive side of things.
Now, I have had the odd experience of seeing that my world was not what I was taught it was in science. Probably the most dramatic was one time when I very much wanted to buy a window fan that had been in a shop before I'd gone away and gone to a conference on consciousness called "The Magic Reality." When I went back to the little store to get it, because there was a big heat wave, it wasn't there and to make a long story short, I was stubbornly glued in place where I had seen that window fan only a week before, refusing to believe that it wasn't there, and two employees having told me it wasn't there. And suddenly it materialized, and it didn't fade in. It was just there from one split second to the next. I went over and touched it. It was solid. It still had the same tag I remembered, "Four speeds, three work, no refund." It was at an outlet shop. I picked it up and took it to the cash register and the woman told pale and said "Where did you get that?" It was a small enough shop that everyone knew what I was looking for and what wasn't there. I said "It was back there. Can I buy it?" And what could she do but check me out? All four speeds worked.
Nipun: How did you process that at that time?
Elisabet: Denial, for a while. "I must have made that whole story up." Then remembering the employees that were witnesses. That's one of those situations where you say, "Wait a minute, that could not have happened." "But it did happen." "No it couldn't have." "Yes, it did."
I had a number of others like that, but slightly less dramatic. One involved materializing an elk in the forest that I really wanted to see, and who hadn't been there before.
I did a lot of work with indigenous people, and I saw them do ceremonies where very magical things, magical to the rest of us, happened.
One of my friends is a David Abram, (author of) "The Spell of the Sensuous." I remember sitting with David long ago and saying, "David, you're a sleight-of-hand magician. You know what magic is. Where do you draw the line in Nature between magic and reality?” He just looked at me and said, "Elisabet, there is no such line. Nature is profoundly magical."
They were experiences that added up to knowing that Jane Roberts' Seth, for those of you who know the Seth Books, was right. We create our reality. What we focus on is what we get. If we focus on fear, we're going to get scary situations. The Universe is obliging that way. And our humanity has, out of massive fear, created very scary situations now.
The other day my son was talking about how the Universe is so in balance that we have to expect just as much bad as good. I say I choose to live my life in the most positive way to redress the balance a bit, because I think the negative has gotten the upper hand here. So I don't have to balance my negative and positive in my own life if I want the positive force that helps to re-balance the larger scene.
Nipun: That is an important takeaway -- that our minds matter most. Thank you.
Elisabet: Mind matters. Mind matters the whole world. That again is what gives me optimism. I know that if I hang out with positive people, if I behave positively myself, if I talk in this kind of a group rather than with the CEOs and board members of the multinationals, which can be very challenging, I can feel the energy in this kind of group --- the energy of the future world we want.
Deven: This is Deven. I'm calling from Orange County, California. I was frantic and running around, but I had a gut feeling that I had to listen to this call. I'm happy that I did, because my gut feeling is taking me toward that sustainable pocket that I would need some day to survive. The message is amazingly profound, and I'm so happy and blessed that I'm here. You've inspired me to have compassion one more time with things and people around me, and to try to embody that Universal love to my toes. Thank you so much for the call. I'm blessed.
Aryae: I want to go back to the early part of your story you were telling about yourself as a rule-breaker who would have these impulses to do things in a different way, as a girl who didn't want to be confined to art and wanted to go to science, or as a young woman who ran off with Henry Miller to Greece. There was something that you were following. I want to ask you as a "past-ist," looking back over the past, from your perspective today, where did those impulses come from?
Elisabet: I think they're available to all of us. We sometimes call them intuition. By the way, in being a rule-breaker, sometimes I got fired from jobs and had to scrabble to raise my children. It wasn't always easy. I'm thinking of Ed Mitchell the astronaut, who on his moon trip had this epiphany that he was held in the arms of the Universe and could not be lost. He lost all his fear of getting back into that tiny little tin can and having to ride all the way back to Earth after the last mission, Apollo 13, had gotten into such serious trouble. It's that feeling that we are permanently a part of this great eternal Now. None of us has any experience outside of Now. The whole Cosmos is all Now. So it's even more complex when you stretch it out on timelines. I have this profound sense that we're here intentionally, we're immortals, we're part of the Universe that is even much more fascinating than we dream of as humans, and that's what keeps me going.
Amit: It's been an incredible call. Deven had a beautiful sentiment there. One thing we're going to take away is bringing down that cosmic love, all the way down to our feet.
Elisabet: That's right. And have a good time. You were meant to have fun on this planet even if things are as bad as they are. It doesn't matter, you see. We are immortals. It's a challenge, and it's all here for us to learn from. The learning is love. "Whatever the question, the answer is love. I love that song."
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