Awakin Calls » James Stark » Transcript


James Stark: Opening Windows to Wonder, the Miracles of Life and Nature

Guest: James Stark
Host: Aryae Coopersmith
Moderator: LuAnn Cooley

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world, to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!

Aryae: Well, good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is Aryae and I'm really excited to be your host for our weekly Global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Now the purpose of these calls is to share stories that helped plant seeds for more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. And we do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspires us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is entire team of service based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.

Today, our special guest speaker is James Stark. Thank you for joining our call. Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space. A minute of silence, please.

Thank you and welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with James Stark. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that's co-created by many invisible hands. In a few minutes our moderator LuAnn will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker, and by the top of the hour, we will roll into a Q&A and a circle of sharing where we'll invite all of your reflections and questions. Now, I've gone ahead and opened up the queue right now. So at any point you can hit star six on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at that's ask at service-based dot org or submit a question or comment via our webcast form, if you're listening in online via the webcast.

Our moderator today is LuAnn Cooley. As she describes herself, in this order, Lu is a wife, mother, Earth Advocate, ServiceSpace volunteer, independent author, educator and activist. She has a PhD in adult education from the University of Georgia where she was also an instructor in women's studies and has taught at other institutions as well.

She also served for 10 years as Regional Technology Training Coordinator at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. These days, Lu experiments with deep adaptation practices at her 2-acre homestead 'Sweet Earth Farm' in rural, Virginia. She also works with a local Immigrant Services nonprofit on developing an education program for non-English speakers. Lu draws inspiration and hope from the stories of the people she meets and her original photographs which typically accompany her DailyGood synopses on ServiceSpace capture her vision of the wonder that surrounds us and the beauty found everywhere. As she says of herself, hope is her strategy fueled by strong coffee. She'll now introduce our guest James Stark, and get the ball rolling. Lu, over to you.

LuAnn: Thank you and welcome to everyone. Welcome, James. It is my pleasure to introduce him. James was raised on a ranch in Canada and influenced by the book Silent Spring, which brought him to Marin County. James is the co-director of the Regenerative Design Institute at Commonweal. He co-founded and currently co-directs the Ecology of leadership and the Ecology of Awakening, which prepare community leaders for the 'Great Turning' of our era.

For decades, James has dedicated himself to community visioning and organizing in Marin County. Some of the organizations that he has co-founded are the West Marin Growers Group, Waste Free Now, KWMR Watershed radio, CLAM -- Community Land Trust Association of Marin. For James, working with vision and community development service led him to an interest in exploring how a healthy inner ecology can impact one's work in the world. As part of that inquiry, he earned a Master's degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica, and like the natural systems and patterns that guide permaculture, his work now is focused on helping others to lead from the inside out, and source their lives from Deep Nature Connection. He now lives on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

And I would like to start this by asking him to give a sort of a recap of how his life has been framed within the 'Great Turning' because it sounds very much like you have lived that whole experience. So if you would, James, welcome to our call and please explain a little bit about the ‘Great Turning’ and how your journey has reflected that framework.

James: Great! Awesome to be in a conversation with you, looking forward to it. And yeah, I was born just as the second world war was ending and grew up, as you mentioned, on a sheep and cattle farm and everything seemed to be going, as a teenager, really unfolding in a beautiful way. Until I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

And it was at that point, I was just really moved and just became aware of: we're heading in the wrong direction. And so that kind of set up myself for what would become down the road as the 'Great Turning' but it set me up to appreciation that my whole life was going to be dedicated to the hope that we could shift from the way things were unfolding to a new way of living in harmony and a sustainable regenerative way. And that's how basically framed up my life and all of the various forms of activism from teenager world. I think I gave my first talk when I was 15, and it was all about imagining what the world could look like, what the possibility was, and how to enroll people in the excitement of moving in a New Direction.

And all the years have, I'm now 73, and now I'm moving into a transition point from the work of trying to avoid ‘what was we were fearing would happen on the planet’, as we moved, to ‘how do we prepare in a strong way to meet the challenges that are emerging globally right now’?

LuAnn: Wonderful. So you actually started out with all of the things that we do and in an activist sort of way. And we talked about some of those organizations that you helped found. And then you moved into -- I believe you had, at your house, you started a Permaculture Institute there and then you moved into Commonweal and the Regenerative Design Institute.

So in the terminology of 'Great Turning', those are considered the life-sustaining systems and practices. So just in case some of our listeners aren't familiar with those concepts, what would you say are the practices that you use, out of the permaculture and regenerative design toolbox, and do for your inner work?

James: Well, yeah, it's in that...i’ll just start by saying that one of the challenges is that -- we, as human beings, have moved out of a deep connection with our bigger body, the earth and the living system. You know, we came out of Africa, we came out of ecology and we used to live in trees. And we've moved, gradually over our lifespan as human beings, but increasingly over that period of time got more and more detached from our deep connection and being nature, you know? So that all of a sudden nature was something out there and we were in charge of things and not being really deeply connected and that's kind of the heart of what the challenge is, is that Gap, that disconnect.

And so when I moved from Asia where I was working, to Marin County and San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, for the first time because I'm Canadian, what resonated when I scanned out there -- Bill Mollison and David Holmgren’s work and insights and unfolding of the concept of Permaculture. At that point, that was framed as permanent culture and sustainability hadn't happened yet as a distinction, and neither had...and then after that regenerative design. Sustainable living to regenerative living.

Sustainable is kind of like -- can you sustain something? But really we've lost so much! So our lifestyles and how we live as human beings have to regenerate the Earth. So not only does it have to be not as brown behind us when we live each day. But we need to restore the fullness of all those living systems.

So permaculture really was a great starting point in terms of, because it was, their work of looking at natural systems, looking at how the Earth, how life moves, and how can we live our life in harmony with living systems, with the principles of how the Earth and the different forms of life function? So, you know, they had developed a set of principles, to take into consideration as we move through a day whether it's our how we move from one place to the other, transportation and energy, how we grow our food, how we build our homes -- what are the ecological principles?

And so we began. My wife Penny Livingston who co-founded Regenerative Design with me, she went off and took a permaculture course and brought those principles. And we started taking it into this 1 acre piece of land in the middle of a village, and implementing -- like how could we live on that 1 acre of land in the regenerative way. You know bringing in solar panels and using vehicles that didn't use petroleum and using waste products from vegetable oil from our restaurant, and growing food and attracting birds and animals into systems. And how do we convert basically a home reality?

And then out of that, the group expanded. What happened was, you know, we ended up with one Sunday a month with over a 100 people coming for garden tours and cars lined up all over and in this residential area! And everyone in the community felt that we’d expanded beyond our envelope. And and so we first moved to Noetic Sciences and we were running programs there, and then we got invited to Commonweal, where we had a complete garden, 17 acres, and we could really fully express how we might work in and live in harmony with the natural world. And we just moved from there.

And in the 14 years that we were there, over 6,000 people went through the program that we had and so it's really I think our life has been really one of being in our imaginary selves and creativity and having that joy and excitement about a vision that lights us up, and then when we're in that space and bringing joy and kindness and deep connection with the natural world, people are attracted to that.

You know, it's -- there is life beyond the shopping mall! And at a certain point, we begin to look for more. And so people came to the garden and then got the skills, we like to think of it as, the garden as a nursery, for it's a Vision Nursery, so you move out of your existing reality, come into the garden and imagine the world you want to live in and then get some skills and then go out and do it in your own community. So you know, the permaculture is really a way, another pathway to orient ourselves to the Living World and being in harmony with it.

Aryae: If I can come in just for a minute. We've had a comment from listener that it sounds a little soft. So James, if you can speak a little closer to your mic on your phone, I think that would help. Thanks.
James: Okay, great. Is it better?
Aryae: Much better. Yes. Thank you.
James: Okay.

LuAnn: So most people think of permaculture and to some degree regenerative design as being mostly about the garden, about being outside and doing things, but you brought that into the Inner Space. So how did that come about? How did you make the transfer from the outside to the inside in your program?

James: Well, one of the interesting things is that we learned is that the skill set and the principles of permaculture and applying them and ecological design and regenerative design are really awesome. But what you run into is the Inner Garden, our mind, of the human being and that's where the greatest challenge was.

So we have a course for two weeks and people would gain all the skills that they need to completely transform their own personal lives and the community and using ecological principles. But then people would take that wisdom and put it in -- some people would put it in the closet -- “Oh, I don't know enough to make a difference. I'll just carry on how I'm doing things.” And then some people would take it and think that they have become the genius of ecological design and go and create messes in different places and go way beyond their capacity. But then a few people in the middle would really move forward in a strong way and it all depends on what's going on in their inner life and their childhood operating systems and their fears and and their stories about themselves, and whether they're trying to prove something to the world, whether they feel insecure or all that stuff.

So I began to look at that when it happened. Also in creating the institutions within our community, the Radio Station and Marine Organic work and stuff like that.

Also it was just the observation that as soon as we move into implementing our childhood operating systems and our strategies for surviving as children, we end up without rites of passage where we clear the traumas of childhood and then can powerfully go into our teen world. And then after having profound preparation for becoming an adult with the leadership of elders and a more intact community, then we move to an adult operating system. But without all that, we can end up, in my case at 50, operating with a child operating system. I'm using the same strategies for survival that I had developed as a child!

So what I got interested in is how do we cultivate our inner gardens in the same way that we would our garden or the natural world outside? And that question led me to doing the training that I did in Santa Monica with Spiritual Psychology, to basically get an idea what is going on and how can we, as easily as possible, move to clearing and composting the patterns that no longer serve us in our life and so that we can move beyond that. So we developed a tree modeler, the analogy of a tree, because in so many ways we have a lot in common with a tree.

So we imagine our canopy as how we show up in the world, if we imagine ourselves as a tree. And then we know from permaculture that it's their root system that lead to supporting the canopy. So we look at our thinking mind as all the thoughts we have, that's how we show up in the world. We have a thought and I want to do this, I want to put a pond in my garden and then a pond arrives in the garden, and then we show up and that's who we are. Or if I want a to be a farmer, I want to be a doctor or I want to be a tech person, those thoughts -- then we end up that in the world.

But where do the thoughts come from? And what is the soil in this analogy? We began to look at it as our emotional body. So depending on what little nuggets are in our emotional body, whether it is shame in my case from my father being an alcoholic and and a lot of shame happened for me, that's like a little nugget in my emotional body and that affects and influences the thoughts I have, and then shame shows up in my canopy and who I am in the world.

So we began the Ecology of Leadership Program ( as a journey to bring that same joy and excitement and curiosity that we bring into our gardens, to bring that same excitement into an exploration of what's going on in our bodies, in our mind, our heart and our senses and basically move into the Awakening of all of that. And in that process of doing that, uncover the patterns that no longer serve us and start composting.

What's interesting is that the predominant form that we have in our culture is emotional land-filling. So the idea is -- if whatever's in our emotional body or trauma whatever because we don't have mechanisms for removing that, we just kind of think about land-filling it. It is interesting that that's the same thing we do with our garbage out there. It's the same, it's all connected. But what we also discovered is if we move and set the intention that we're in the emotional composting of those nuggets, and bioremediation, then we get out of the way. And our bodies, if we're not trying to bury what's going on in our inner garden, because we're nature, nature always brings balance and clears and heals and restores vitality. So it's only us that keeps everything locked in and it's really interesting that when we move to that new place of being open, and face the fears that might be there, then we move into a healing process, and that is much stronger when we're in a circle of other people who are doing the same kind of work.

We move from 'The Lone Wolf' kind of approach into more being a villager at which -- we've always been villagers, we've always been in tribes or camps. And when we go into that mode of community and connection, then a healing process begins to unfold and then a normalization process happens. Because much of what's challenging out there in the planet is due to disconnect, whether it's disconnect from our hearts, disconnect from our senses, disconnect from our family members, disconnect from our community. So that's how we began to create a pathway, how we could move and compost those things. Once we allow some of those self judgments and judgments of others, and old stories and narratives and beliefs, and once those start to fade, then we get access to feeling, what's calling us, what the universe wants from us, why am I here, and that those gifts begin to come up to the surface and we begin to express those out in the world. So rather than living from our past and everything we're carrying, we move to a fresh place where we are present. And then can respond to -- what's the world that we want to imagine? And what would it look like, and how can we do that together with others?

LuAnn: You make my head spin. Alright, so I know in permaculture one of the things that you start out doing is to observe. So how does that apply to doing work in your inner garden?

James: Yeah, in permaculture, for those that are not familiar with it, we always recommend that we take two years if we move into a new place, and just observe what is going on. Because when we move on to a new piece of land, we are the last ones to arrive. There's millions of forms of life on that site, whether it's 1 acre or 5,000 acres, whatever it is, or a tiny backyard, or even a balcony. But we're the last ones. There's a whole ecology there. So taking a year or two to observe initially and then another year and then you begin to see and understand, get a feeling for what's there.

On using observation with inner gardening, that's the first step on the journey of the Ecology of leadership was that we just begin to observe: what are the stories that I have, what were the events in my life? What are the major events that happened? You know the ones that really feed us, like my really amazing grandmother who still feeds me with what she brought into my life. And she shows up in a way, whether cooking food, or traditions, she was Ukrainian, and all of that. So she feeds me.
But then there was another event which I mentioned, my father being an alcoholic during some of my childhood. Well that event created stories and ideas and then there's self judgments and stuff. So it's having that opportunity, just look at it without -- it takes courage. You know, my generation, the last thing we want to do is look at the past. We buried it. We didn't want to deal with it and it's kind of like what we see going on in the world right now, like human beings have a tendency to want to not confront fear.

And the interesting thing about fear is when we resist it, it persists. And so when I overcame the fear of just like looking: oh God, I have this story and that happened in my life and how does that feel and stuff? And we begin to do a site assessment of what's going on in our inner world? You know, what are the the 25 to 500 self-judgments I have, you know? What my knees look like, I'm not good at math. Like all the ways that we diss ourselves, because we're divine human beings having this Human Experience. We're amazing, the body is totally amazing. And so, but then we have this mind that's just sitting there chewing away at all the reasons we're not amazing, you know?

And so that process of just observing what's going on. And then when we share, “oh, here's what I think of myself” with another person. You'll I think that I'm stupid, you know, this was a big one that I had. For a number of reasons, little traumas in school and stuff and all of a sudden, we get an idea that we're not as smart as other people. So then we've got this narrative that -- who am I to do this and duh-duh-duh. And so that process of observing that and then you share it with somebody. And they say -- what?! And then when you hear their self judgement, I say -- “What?! You're amazing.” You know, so it's a gradual -- from that site assessment -- to look at where are all the irrational beliefs and stories and self judgments and it all begins to unravel.

And it's kind of like Joanna Macy talks about, that 'Great Unraveling' and and it's like an unraveling of ourselves to begin to see what the basic wonder is. And you know, it's kind of like opening windows to wonder. It's the incredible nature of it. And that's why we joined up with Dr. Anna O'Malley in creating Art of Vitality to explore the amazing nature of the human body and the Wonder of it. And we're just, we're basically walking miracles. But, we so demean and reduce the essence of that and it's like how to bring that into life. We have to even learn how to feed ourselves, where it's so interesting, when we look at -- just do that site assessment and see -- "Oh my God, I actually put things in my mouth that really aren't food. And why do I do that?"

And what are the stories on that? And why don't I understand that, that is a really crazy thing to do? And as a result we end up with a healthcare system that is about to collapse because we're not eating food. We're eating stuff out of labs that are, you know, which the body doesn't understand what it is. They're chemicals that it has never seen before so they try to attack it, we become inflamed and then the body starts to deteriorate, and then we end up with the health situations that we have.

So yeah, observation is taking the time to observe! And for me, my spiritual journey and the teachers that I had, opened up that, basically the opening up from meditation, which was the first crack of the Awakening for me, was the appreciation that -- James, I am not my thinking mind, you know? That there is the thinking part, but then there's pure awareness. And meditation is such an amazing opportunity to experience that there’s two things going on. And that the quieting of the mind can open to, returning to our senses and just pure awareness, and out of that pure awareness, opens the possibility for deep nature connection.

The mind, you know, the thinking mind, has nature out there. But our senses, as soon as we move into our senses, we reconnect into the natural world, that those are the, that's our circuitry into our bigger body. And so, that observation of that and how meditations open that and what is that relationship with meditation, and then awareness, and site assessment and permaculture, and it all leads into this awakening that we are the natural world, we are one of the integral parts of the natural world. But the way we don't live in harmony with our bigger body, not only the way we eat, but how we move from place to place, that we are running counter to the laws of natural world and life in general. And so this, the ‘Great Turning.’ As you know, Joanna Macy, a great spokesperson for that possibility of moving to, from human beings where we are destroying life, as a result of leading one of our lives, into the possibility of regenerating life and being in harmony with the living planet.

And that's, you know, the challenge, the challenge of our time. And how to bring joy into that moment, where, you know, we've never been here before? As human beings. I kind of think -- “Well, you know, I feel a little bit overwhelmed. Why is that? You know? How did other people deal with this?” Well, it's never happened before. We've never, as a human being on the planet, with access to all the information and what's happening globally, we've never had to really face into the enormity of the situation we've created as human beings. Now with 7 billion people, 2.5 (billion) when I began my life, we have a huge impact.

And it's how do we bring the light into that darkness? And we have to begin by looking face on into the fear, because I think if we are nature, which that we are, we probably intuit what's about to happen. And it's deep inside of us, whether we are consciously letting it bubble up. But if we avoid it, we're not serving future generations. And so awakening to the, having the courage to look squarely at where we are, with climate change and soil loss and population and energy and dependence on fossil fuels and all of this kind of stuff. You know, we are heading to a huge transition moment on the planet. And it's not clear what's going to happen. But we want to go in with bringing joy into that, because it is, even though it's a darkness, it can be the portal for moving humanity into a whole new way of living on the planet that so exceeds our shopping mall culture and consumer culture.

And it could be that as Maharishi, my first teacher said, when he first announced the dawn of the age of enlightenment -- is this what we need? Is this the process of how life will evolve on the planet? And we just don't understand what's going on, you know? So for me, the big transition in my life was moving from where I was trying to figure it all out, like -- “Why aren't there salmon in the river? Yeah, like who did that? Why did that happen?” Into what if I really don't know what's going on on the planet and maybe it's an unfolding that we lead into, us as a part of that. Like what's the calling? How does the universe want to use me? What is the unknown future and can I bring, come at that with heart? And as Mother Teresa says, “We're not here to do great things. we are here to do small things with a big heart.” Like, how do we shift from living in our mind to living from our heart and with deep nature connection? And say that's kind of where the edge is where I'm journeying right now.

LuAnn: You give me so much to think about. First, seven billion people on the earth, but yet loneliness is one of the biggest problems that people say that they're facing right now. So there's something going on in that regards and you've brought up climate change and all of the different problems. So how does one move from being with the stories that they were raised into being someone who is, for lack of a better term, moving into the shift, where they are seeing a new way of living. There's a huge distance between those two.

Just using your personal example, you were living from the stories of shame, but now you're living from a story of vision. So how did you move from that, the shame person, to the vision person? What transpired there? And if you want to use the permaculture and the regenerative design vocabulary that seems to be part of what your work is. Composting. How do you compost?

James: Yeah and I'd love to go there. When you mention loneliness, working with Anna, the doctor in our community, brought to my awareness that in the research that's done, that loneliness has the equivalent negative impact on our bodies that a pack of cigarettes a day does. So the alienation, you know, when we go back to traditional villages, the worst thing that could possibly happen is that you would be banished from the village and have to live by yourself. And we've moved into our culture where we've even promoted that you need to be independent and self-sufficient and that you don't need all these co-dependencies and all this kind of stuff and we're paying a price for that.

So I would say that how I moved from living from the past -- when I turned 50, I realized that I can't do another few decades of James. It'd be like eating leftovers from the fridge for the rest of your life, you know? It's like, you've gone through a couple relationships, you see the pattern there, you pretty well can predict what's going to happen because with the operating system that I had, with the mental framework of the emotional body, with all the stories, everything that I had on on board, I could pretty well predict, it's just going to be more of the same thing.

And so at 50, I made a commitment that I'm going to have the courage to look at and upgrade my system. And move out of the crazy monkey mind and all the stories and all that stuff. And I've basically, that was 50, so I'm at my 24th year of that work. And what's interesting is that the healing process never stops! It's awesome. Like when I sit in and help facilitate a Ecology of leadership circle and we're doing healing work for six months, I'm in the circle myself. It's not like I've completed, wrapped up.

And Sobonfu Somé, an African healer, talks about in her village when somebody starts really setting the intention to work on their healing, that's one thing -- the healing stuff that's happened for yourself personally. But then we inherit stuff from our mother and our grandmothers, our grandfathers, and stuff and and the whole lineage. Like, there's been a lot of trauma for human beings. You know, ice ages, collapse and all this kind of stuff. So once we begin the process of living powerfully, in our loving and having courage, and facing fear, we become, we develop the capacity not only to have extraordinary lives out there, but at the same time we're healing. It's kind of like how regenerative braking is on my electric car, you know?

Two things can be happening. So there's moments as my visioning and my activism in the community and calling to more refined work, it requires that I continue to heal and release stuff that's in my system that maybe I didn't even have anything to do with. But we become conduits. And Sobonfu Somé says that we become the conduit for moving that, in our inner gardens, moving those traumas and the grief, and moving that for others, and for the whole village.

And so how I moved... I had to first create, clear my desktop, so that I had capacity to hold the vision. As long as I'm sitting there, you know, ruminating about my disconnect and how I ended my first marriage and the grief that was involved in that, and like all the stuff from the past, it's...our minds are crazy. We sit there and it's like a radio station and we just keep turning the dial, only we're not turning the dial on all these different things, it's just doing it on its own, it's like it's on search mode. And we just get like, it's like all the time, it’s going on. Where's the capacity to sit and listen for how I can be used, and what's being called forth?

And so for me it was that transition to -- rather than pushing my activism and and trying to accomplish things out's the same way as the wind moves. When the wind moves, it's not being, the wind isn't being pushed, it's being drawn to a new location. And so how do we do that? And for me it's clearing the stuff we are carrying... and when we carry all these self judgments, we have to, and I think that I'm this and I'm not that and I'm not that and I'm not this and I'm bad at this and all that kind of stuff. So then we begin to create this fictional character James who's running around trying to prove that he's not that to the world. Last thing I want to do is have the world realize I'm stupid, but deep down I know I am.

So then we lose our capacity to be aesthetic because we're basically on stage all the time, trying to prove and win and all this kind of stuff out there, rather than just being present. So I would say that the transition is to move out of that past. And how to compost those stories and the regret, the guilt, the judgment, "but my father..." You know, all of that stuff. And to allow for forgiveness and compassion and understanding for him. When I looked at his childhood... "Oh, I understand why it's like that." You know, it's no wonder. And I am the way I am, because I came out of this ecology.

So, it's you know, Putin came out of an ecology. Like, what was that ecology? If we look at it we can have an understanding of how we move from generations to generations. And so for me it was how to compost the past, not losing the gems and the jewels. Like it's kind of you are composting what no longer serves you and looking at what are the gifts, what were the contributions, who were my teachers, and celebrating them.

So it's just like a farmer with the grain and blowing the chaff out. You're just clearing to bring up the jewels and who do I want to source from, who are my teachers, what were their visions? So now how do I want to express myself in the world? What does the world want from me? What gifts do I personally have that are unique? And there's no point in me trying to bring my attention to addressing the issue with salmon, if I hate fish, and I don't relate to that. But I just melt when I'm around an elderly person and want to support them and that compassion unfolds in that way. Because it's our activism, it is not so much what we say. It's really about who we are being, are we lit up, are we in our joy, is there a sparkle in our eyes, do we jump out of bed in the morning, and just can't wait for the sun to come up so that we can get involved in whatever we're doing? And that transition really for me was about composting the past.

Aryae: Thank you. I'd like to remind our listeners that we'd love to hear your participation, your comments and questions. So if you're on the phone, please dial star six or else if you're listening live stream, you can submit a question via the live stream form or email us at

LuAnn: All right, James looks like we've got maybe another minute or two.

Aryae: Keep going a little bit, you know, it doesn't have to be exactly on the top. So you've got a little more time

LuAnn: Building on what you have just talked about - part of what you brought up was just having an imagination, being able to tap into your vision for yourself. So I would like to give you a few minutes to express not just your vision for you personally, but what do you see as a vision for the world that you would like to live in. That's something that I think we're all struggling with right now to imagine what the world is going to be like in 1, 5, 10, more than a few decades, and people seem to really sputter. But if we are using our imaginations then what would you put out there for people to sort of use as a North Star?

James: Well, a North Star...I'd start with one of the things that we haven't mentioned, that I feel is a foundation piece to that North Star, it is the intergenerational work. It's a real challenge that we have, what technology has imposed on us, is having an impact on how we are intergenerationally and the moving of the home. So I don't live with my parents, and grandparents are on the other part of the country and all this kind of stuff, and intergenerational living. We now have Elder fires, on the full moons every month, for the last three and a half, close to four years. So basically it's where we have a fire and people of all ages can come but there are Elders there. And it's an exploration about how do we move into being in a way where we have child on one hand and an elder on the other and that collective experience of wisdom from people who have lived for a while, and the new inspiration, and how do we weave that together?

So I just like to bring that up and from the research that I've done it's a critical issue in our culture because if we remain separate and Elders are in one camp and the Millennials are in another, there's going to be a war for resources. The Elders need the Millennials, and the Millennials trying to raise children and stuff need people to support them and help them and all that kind of stuff. So that's a big part of the work that I'm addressing and new vision around that.

I think for me the North Star is basically nature connection, returning to being nature and doing that work that we've talked about, the healing work and the moving into our senses. The downside of having trauma and wounding and stuff in our bodies, the price that we pay is we get alienated from our body and we begin to live in our minds. Because we don't want to feel. And because the air is kind of... the bus just went by me and it's kinda polluted, so we don't want to use our nose so much and so we just end up living in our minds. The North Star for me is that we return to living in our bodies and our senses and our feeling and leading from the heart and when we compost the stuff from the past, we get access to intuition and feeling what we want to do and where we are being drawn to. Trying to figure out everything, it's crazy. We have this thing, we want to understand everything. Well the point is we're living on a ball that's traveling at incredible speeds in the universe that we have no idea. If I were to tune into Brian Swimme ( and get a bigger picture of the thing...

I've gone out from the garden on a clear night and the first time this happened, it shocked me. Because I looked up and I really got present to where I was as a human being and I just broke down in tears. It's overwhelming and one of my spiritual teacher said: if we really awoke, we might have a heart attack. It might be just too overpowering. It's -- can we open those windows of wonder, forget trying to understand everything, just be with a miracle, that’s all. And then attune to it, and be in the playful curiosity about how we can live.

I want to just clarify here - we're talking about living inside the bubble and the privilege -- what an honor it is to even consider these things. I could be in another part of the planet where they are already further into the tunnel, and they don't even have any food to eat and they're being terrorized and tortured and all those kind of things. So, it's how do we bring the light into that and then in our villages, in our country, how do we bring that spirit of a new way of being, and a new form of government? How do we imagine? What would it be like if we actually had Elders and wise people of all generations, the bright minds and people living from their hearts, what if they were the ones who are in Washington, you know? What if we really had a government that comes from the heart, like holding a Sony hat, where you are actually choosing. Where the women choose the leaders because those are the people that they trust. Those are the people who have done their inner work. Those are the people that have gone beyond their grief and are holding a bright vision.

But we have to start with ourselves. Because for me to transform Washington would be a waste of my time right now. I have to deal with James. Who am I being? Do I have a Donald Trump moment? Where is that kind of thing happening in me? And how do I transcend that? So I look at it, as we all have our homework, we all have the healing capacity.

One of my teachers said healing is the application of loving to the parts inside that hurt. It's so amazing that we can tune into our heart and begin the process of healing ourselves. And in that process we become a beacon of light and possibility for the healing of others.

When I go into the Wells Fargo bank, and I didn't pull my account like a lot of people were doing. I determined I want to have a relationship with the bank manager. So now Jeff and I, I just phone up and say I need to bounce my bank account and he doesn't ask me any of those secret cody things. Oh James, yeah I'll do that. It's about bringing relationship to every part, just being a love bunny out there in the world and living from the heart. And it's just one being at a time. And I'm only one of seven billion, but that's how we'll move through doing our own inner work and then bringing acts of kindness and compassion. And bringing your wildest imagination of the world that you want to live in, into being.

Aryae: Wow, thank you James and thank you, LuAnn. What a rich and deep conversation. So I want to remind everyone listening, if you'd like to, please jump in, offer your question or comment. If you're on the phone just dial star six and you'll be in the queue or otherwise you can email us at

James, as I'm listening, I've got a number of questions that come up.
One is I'm really taken with your composting metaphor, your inner composting, of composting the child operating system and transforming that into an adult. My question is as composting in the garden is kind of an ongoing or annual process, isn't inner composting like that? And what are the practices for ongoing inner composting as stuff comes up? What do you do? What do you recommend to the rest of us?

James: Yeah. It's an ongoing process. The interesting thing between composting in the garden, the external gardening and the internal gardening: externally we take whatever that transformation, the alchemy that we want to have happen, to take something from one level into nutrient, we put it in the dark and that's where the composting process happens. That's where the alchemy happens.

It’s the exact opposite in inner gardening, because how we take that nugget of something we want to compost is we bring it out into the light. The stages are - realizing there's something there and feeling it and observing. And then the next stage in the composting is maybe writing it down. And then it's bringing it out to another person. Each one of those stages, its power of being locked in, it starts to lose energy in the light. Because my story that I was stupid when I mentioned that, when I wrote that down -- God, I actually think that! On a deep level, way down. And I bring it and I share that with somebody. All of a sudden it starts losing its capacity and then it becomes nutrient in that, oh my God, I can share that with somebody and somebody out there may have that same thing, and it encourages them to have the courage to look at what are those things?

So yeah, and it is an ongoing thing. The practice is - I love how we're wired for healing opportunity. So whether a partner or the person that we're working with, we get triggered. And one of the indicators is when I get emotionally charged by something that happens, whether it's the news or whether it's somebody did cut me off or whatever. And the practice is become aware -- I've lost my resilience. I've lost my equanimity. Why is that? What's going on? If I'm in a meeting and I get triggered, in that meeting there were six other people, that one person said this and I'm the only one who's triggered. I'm emotionally charged. What's going on?

So now I've got homework. Because it isn't about that person, he or she, or what they said. Because everybody else is fine. I've got homework, so when I get triggered by my wife or the person at the bank or whatever, or AT&T, "Oh am I in my loving (place)? And if I'm not, then what's going on there"? So it's just bringing our attention to that and sensing it. So it is for me that process is daily and it's just being aware of - am I being kind, am I being in my loving, and what's going on in my mind. And so it's observation observation observation all the time.

Aryae: That's like a kind of ongoing mindfulness process or even of a Vipassana type of observation on one hand. And on the other hand, maybe a little bit like a 12-step process of saying to myself and to another person, the exact nature of what's going on.

James: Yeah and it helps. I spend two weeks of every year for the last 16 years in the Zendo. It's our know, they are amazing. As human beings, we are amazing and the mind is amazing. But if we can't quieten our mind and if we're carrying wounding in our bodies, then that triggers these powerful minds. Because we can have three people go through the same day and somebody is having a terrible time and the other person is just blowing through it. And it all depends on the mindset, what's your framework, what's the narrative that's going on? Do you go into the day and say "Oh my God, another day in paradise", like whoa, who am I going to meet; as opposed to "Oh, geez, I got to go there and I got to go here...". In the garden, Penny often talks about, I have to work in the garden today, I get to work in the garden, I get to have another day on the planet, Oh my God, what could I do with this new day?

Aryae: Well, what you're saying now sounds very similar to a comment that we've received from Valerie in Victoria. And it seems like you've already been covering this and maybe you have some sort of further comments. She says: “how do we shift awareness of ourselves as being of nature? I think language is key, speaking of non-human animals as who, rather than that, and he/she rather than it. In your view, is that a step to shifting the mistaken view that humans are separate from and superior to other forms of life?” Any comments, James, on Valerie's reflection?

James: Hi Valerie, you're just north of me, you're so close. I would say for me, my experience is the journey home to being nature is, it helps initially to have the idea, the thought and the narrative that we are nature. That helps. But really the process of being nature comes about through our senses. That's my experience, and it may be different for other people. It's not me thinking about it. It's about me smelling, it's about me tasting it, it's about me hearing the birds, it's about me learning bird language. It's not about walk in the forest so much, and walks in the forest are awesome.

But with John Young we did work and have programming for a number of years. Having sit spots, that's what we use in the Ecology of Leadership and the Art of Vitality, where we actually go and sit in the spot. And if you take that to a practice, John Young did a sit spot for 10 years, twice a day in the same spot. And what happens is when you sit in the same spot, day after day after day after day, basically, we begin to melt into our senses and out of our mind, the mind starts to quieten, we just become nature.

For me, the original sit spot person was Buddha. You get out of the castle or the palace and you go and sit under a tree and become nature. Then the wisdom that comes grows out of that. My practice is to choose a place, and I recommend picking some places really close to you, like having that ideal spot that you drive five miles to, it's not going to happen on a daily basis or a number of times a week. It's just like step outside, find someplace, anyplace, and choose that. It takes about 20 minutes after your intervention, into wherever the forest, or field, or whatever, everything panics when you arrive. And it takes about 20 minutes for everything to get to "Okay, I guess it's all right." And then the spiders come out, and the birds return, and everything starts to open up again. And that's when we begin to experience the living world through our senses.

What it helps to do, is it helps to transition to the belief, to believe these stories in the thinking mind. Because you go and take all your judgments of the world - Democrats are good and Republicans are bad, or Republicans are good and Democrats are bad, and you take that out into the forest and it doesn't wash out there.....

Aryae: That's a great practice. Thank you, James. We've got some people in the queue for some live questions. So we'll go to the next one.

Wendy: This is Wendy. I loved how you use, James, the nature, gardening metaphors, for internal processes. I'm wondering so much of what's happening in the world especially regarding climate change can be pretty scary. And how do you address those kind of fears? And how do you bring it back into the nature that's outside you and inside you that can be both comforting and also help break kind of the paralysis of fear and to get you moving into solving some of these problems? Thank you.

James: Oh, thanks. Yeah, dealing with fear...fear is really the obstacle and all of that. For years, my old practice was -- if I fear, or there's a resistance to this, then I go the other way and then lo and behold I run right back into it over in that angle and I change direction and try to avoid fear there. Then it got to the point where, "Okay I am just going to face it and embrace it" and fear continues. Can we embrace it and melt through it, into the action?

One example of that - I feared going in and working in a women's prison, even though I was invited to go many times and I said no, I'm too busy. There was so much resistance to doing that, and fear to go in, and fear to meet those terrible women that were in there, and like all kinds of stories about da-da-da. There was an inner fear and when I chose to apply and was accepted, I just broke down in tears and just wept.

Somewhere in there, underneath what was fearing that fear, what had to do with what I was carrying in my own body, whether that was just the simple idea that they have 3,000 women all wrapped in barbed wire for the cases, where it's basically our cultural breakdown and immense influence on them. Or it was a wounding from my parents or my grandmother, whatever it was. But after facing that fear of going in, I went in and that's where some of the greatest healing I had was -- working in the prison with women being counselors to me. And so the encouragement for me now is -- I'm looking for where my fears are. What am I resisting? What am I afraid of? And I head in that direction. Because that's the window to the wonder, moving beyond that is the light, and it is clearing the system and composting the system.

Wendy: Thank you very much.
James: You are welcome.

Kozo: Hi, this is Kozo from Cupertino. Thank you James. This is a beautiful, clear merging of permaculture and inner work, it really speaks to me. I'm thinking about the re-composting past experience analogy and it also occurred to me that what we don't re-compost, we pass on. The crap gets passed down, if we don't re-compost it ourselves. I have children, so it gets passed down to them.

And I'm experiencing that basically there's a lot of stuff that's festering on my ancestral line that's been hidden away. I come from a Japanese culture and saving face is such a big thing in Japanese culture. And a lot of things get just pushed down and land-filled. And then that gets transferred down to me, and then if I don't re-compost it, it gets transferred down to my children. I'm just wondering if you've experienced that same ancestral - just call it ancestral weight or ancestral karma or ancestral stuff, that's coming down, that you're being forced to clear. And if you don't clear it, then it's going to transfer out. I don't know if you have children, but it's going to transfer out down further along the line of the next generation.

James: Yeah, the answer is yeah. That's why in some ways, that tradition of Seven Generations is interesting, thinking beyond just me. What our lineage has been, on my side of the family, Scottish ancestry and Ukrainians, and they both came out of really brutal situations. And once I started looking at that, and could see that being carried in my great-grandfather, and when I looked at the wounding and then looked at what my father was dealing with and then addiction that comes in and stuff.

I just feel that there is an opportunity and kind of a commitment, as you are distinguishing -- do I feel that I want to do the work of clearing that for my kids? So that we're not transferring it on. And we do.

The research around babies, before they are born, are picking up on what's going on within the family. If the parents are struggling and there's a lot of tension and stuff, the babies actually absorb that, and they come in with that. On one level it can freeze you -- Oh my God, what I'm carrying is going to transfer. But I don't look at it that way. So here's where we are, and no guilt, just what can I do? And can I integrate a healing practice into my life, so that I'm doing it at the rate that I can do it and I'm committed to it, and that's my gift to my kids, and it is true that if we move through it, then we don't transfer it on. A lot of it is unconscious and it is energy. There's many subtle levels to it. And I'm so glad that you picked that.

I've been to Japan and lived for five years in Asia. You can see what happens in the ancient cultures and stuff stays alive. At a certain point in all the different streams on the planet, the communities realize that they need for their survival -- the healers and the elders and the wise ones, and knew that they had to have practices to clear this stuff. Going back to Sobonfu Somé, when the elders would realize there was stuff building up, that so and so is having a something going on with the other person, and da-da-da, they just declared a trance dance and had to clear it. You got to get it out of the system because the survival is going to be dependent on it. And that's on a little village level, they knew that. Just tribes knew that, that you had to keep it clear. Otherwise, it builds up and then there's going to be violence and all that kind of stuff.

And we're just dealing with that on a global scale. We've got seven billion people carrying all the grief from the past and no longer any mechanisms or cultural framework to be addressing it. That's what Joanna Macy's work ( is in how do we move the grief?

And as long as we're carrying all this, we're going to continue to be the way we are on the planet. We need to move that out of our systems, so that we can live in our heart. These nuggets of shame and grief and anger and all that trauma and all that stuff, it's compost time. My feeling is that's how we'll end up coming into the light, after we go through the crisis where we're about to enter.

If anybody wants to get an eye-opener, there's a book out called "Lights Out". Just imagine what it would be like if your power went off for 5 years because there are countries now that could put our lights out in United States. It would take us five years to get them back. Or a solar flare that happened in and around the 1850s, I think it was, a solar flare came and knocked out all our electrical systems. Fortunately then it was just this little wire that went across the country, so it wasn't a big deal. But now, can you imagine what would happen with eight billion people and the electricity system goes out? So all of these things are just indicators that it's time now to move into our own personal healing and our relationship to our community, and our food source, and move away from fake foods, and be in relationship with all that. But I love that you are addressing how to remove the grief in our lineage.

Aryae: Great! Thank you Kozo for your question and thank you, James. So we're at that point in our call where we ask the traditional final question of the Awakin Calls, for you James. And that is, how can we in the Service Space community, support your work?

James: Well, I would say: one, on the most mundane level you could check out our website and see what we're doing and the programs. We're starting an Ecology of Leadership six month program that's starting in about three weeks and anybody's interested in that they could check out the Ecology of Leadership, just Google that. And the Art of Vitality, the work that I do with my partner, the doctor Dr. O'Malley.

I think on a deeper level, how my work could be supported is by doing just like the last caller, just taking on your own healing path, because each person, I guess it was George Bush talked about the Thousand Lights...

Aryae: Thousand points of light.

James: Thousand points of light. It all adds up. It makes a difference. On one level, it seems like how big of a difference is that? But going back to Mother Teresa, with a small thing, just if somebody moves in and says hi and how you doing to your bank manager, that changes a life. It all makes a difference. It's such a fine balance now, so I'm in support of that.

The beginning process now - there's a movement for the resiliency, in preparation for the crisis removing in, how do we prepare our community? So I would just say, how you could support our work is, look at how do we move our own personal lives into harmony with the natural world, reconnect, do sit spots out there, and meditation. And move into the awareness and back into our body. I'd love to see you carry on the conversation and check out our website.

Aryae: That's great. What we'll do is to make sure to include the link to your website in our thank you note. So that people can stay in touch. I want to thank you again James Stark for taking this morning to be with us, to share your thoughts and your wisdom. I want to thank you also LuAnn Cooley for being our moderator for this conversation today.

James: Thank you so much for putting this form of activism and possibility and allowing for the light to shine. I just so appreciate the work you're doing.

Aryae: So as we do at the end of our Awakin Calls, I invite all of us listening to hold one more collective minute of silence in gratitude.
So, thank you everyone. Thank you for joining us this morning and wishing you a good rest of your rest of your day.

James: Happy New Year.
Aryae: Happy New Year.
LuAnn: Thank you James. Thank you Aryae.

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