Poetry, Song, and Turning 74

Dear New School Friends,

We just completed our 197th Cancer Help Program. We will hold our 200th in April. Each time eight people show up from a cross the country — and often around the world.

Many have recurrent cancer. They come for many reasons. They come to find others who understand what they are going through. They come in hope of learning about integrative therapies that might enhance or extend life. They come to process what they have been going through in life-changing treatments. But above all, they come to find a way to hold this part of their lives with greater peace of mind.

I turned 74 on October 22nd. I entered my 75th year on this sacred earth. I live at the place where the land meets the ocean, where the earth meets the sky. Each day I give thanks for Commonweal — for our community, for our work, for this place.

I live in a place where light meets darkness, where love meets loss, where understanding meets mystery. I live in gratitude for it all. Continue reading

North Bay Fires: Commonweal Voices

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Dear Friends,

The confluence of catastrophes that have been circling the globe has landed in Northern California with disastrous fire losses in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties.

Commonweal has many friends, Cancer Help Program alumni, staff, and board members in the Fire Zone. The stories of those who have lost homes, been evacuated, or moved out themselves because they could not breathe or saw the wisdom of leaving are flowing toward us like an incoming tide. Commonweal is just south of the Fire Zone, so we have not been directly affected yet.

New School Coordinator and Commonweal Communications Manager Kyra Epstein is organizing our resources on FaceBook and our website to gather stories, resources, and ideas of how all of us can help. We also have placed a NorCal Fire Fund option on the Commonweal donation page. We’ll give 100% of donations to fire victims and their communities, guided by the local knowledge of our board, staff, and friends. There are many good places to donate. We just want to offer a place for people who trust our approach to healing work.

Here’s Kyra:

Monday morning at 7am, I woke up in my Sonoma County home when my neighbor tapped on my door. “Pack a bag,” she said. Cable, Internet, and phones were down, and had been since late the night before, though I hadn’t known it. Something had happened. The sun was blood red and the sky was glowing. Ash was sifting down and collecting on surfaces. The air smelled like campfire. Continue reading

The Noise of Time

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The Noise of Time is the title of a novel by Julian Barnes based on the life of the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovitch. Here is the beginning of an elegant review in The Guardian:

Julian Barnes’s last novel, the Man Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), engaged in subtle and sustained dialogue with the book whose title it pilfered, Frank Kermode’s brilliant 1967 work of narrative theory, also called The Sense of an Ending. Barnes’s latest, The Noise of Time, borrows its title from Osip Mandelstam’s memoirs, and again the earlier work casts interesting light upon Barnes’s project. Mandlestam was one of Stalin’s most outspoken critics, his fate sealed with the words of his 1933 Stalin Epigram. He was exiled in the Great Terror and died in a Vladivostok transit camp in 1938. The subject of The Noise in Time is not the brave, doomed Mandelstam, though, but a rarer genius, one whose art continued to flourish despite the oppressive attentions of the Soviet authorities: Dmitri Shostakovich.
Continue reading

The Blue Whale on Bolinas Beach

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Dear New School Friends,

A 79-foot young female blue whale washed up dead near Agate Beach in Bolinas on Friday, May 26. For our community, it was one of the most significant events in the 45 years I have lived here. A lot of us felt deep grief about her death — she was hit by a ship and her back was broken.

Below you will find two reflections on her death — by Burr Heneman and Howard Dillon. Burr is a co-founder of Commonweal and directed the Commonweal Oceans Program for decades. Howard is a close friend of the Commonweal community and a gifted actor.

We welcome your thoughts and reflections.

Michael Continue reading

Politics, Friendship, and the People of the Book

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Friends:

I am back in Paris at the end of this month-long European journey. I’ve also been in Brussels, Geneva, Cardiff, and Amsterdam. We’re working to promote trade treaties that protect people and planet. We are also working to preserve Europe’s unique precautionary approach to chemicals that poison all living things.

Brexit looks like a catastrophe for the U.K. Theresa May, the conservative Prime Minister, called a snap election. She will strengthen her parliamentary majority. She opposed Brexit but has taken the position that, “the people have spoken.” She has been sure-footed so far.

Brexit negotiations will be difficult. Some 30,000 U.K. laws need review. More than 40 years of legislation needs to be unwound. This can’t be done well in the mandatory two years till departure. How, one friend asked, with the overwhelming distraction of Brexit, can the U.K. address the urgent issues facing a modern state?

The E.U. holds the face cards. The E.U. can’t let the U.K. “win” with market access and no penalties. That could precipitate a rush to the exit for other E.U. countries. The tripwire is freedom of movement. German Prime Minister Merkel, also headed for reelection, has said the U.K. can’t restrict open frontiers and still retain trade rights. Open frontiers were what drove Brexit. Continue reading

Politics and Philosophy in Paris

sacre-coeur-2I left Paris on Sunday, May 10, the day of the presidential election. The election had two rounds. Emmanuel Macron and Marine LePen qualified for the final round. Macron, like Hillary Clinton, defeated the left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, the equivalent of Bernie Sanders. LePen, like Donald Trump, defeated the center right candidate, Francois Fillon. Then Macron defeated LePen by a 2-to-1 vote.

A sigh of relief swept centrist Europe. The vote for Macron was largely a vote against LePen. Macron is a political neophyte without an established party behind him.

After the Brexit vote in Britain to leave the European union, Europe has wondered whether it can stem the rising tide of right-wing parties. The answer so far is a qualified yes. But the right wing, temporarily checked, is moving into the political mainstream. Establishment parties have no good answers on immigration. Endless wars in the Middle East and Africa, climate change, famine, and drought are driving desperate people toward the rising barriers along Europe’s frontiers. Continue reading

Together We Are Stronger

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Dear New School Friends,
This time in America poses many challenges for the Commonweal community and for each of us. The first challenge is how we live through this time personally. The second challenge is how we respond to it in our work. And the third challenge is how we join with others in responding in the most effective way possible.

Commonweal is a non-partisan organization, but we have values. We have fought for health, environment, and justice for 40 years. We believe in the preciousness of constitutional democracy, diversity, and the right to love who we love. Continue reading

Lighting Candles in Dark Times

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Writer and speaker Sumbul Ali-Karamali in conversation with TNS Host Irwin Keller

Dear New School Friends:

Take care of your health — and the health of those you love. Not only is it the flu season — but stress lowers immune resistance. Many find this time of turbulence stressful. Here are ten suggestions for dealing with the tremendous stress of this time:

1. Let go of fear. Love, our friend Jerry Jampolsky wrote, is letting go of fear. Love heals. Love is the greatest healing force. Reach out to those you love.

2. Eat well, exercise, meditate, and touch the people you love. These are the four classic ways to strengthen resilience.

3. Attend to your unattended griefs. Read my friend Francis Weller on the sacred work of grief. Continue reading

A Reflection on Our Times

1earthMost commentary on the American presidential election focuses on the qualities of the candidates and recent events in American political history. Pulling back the lens offers a more expansive view.

Hegemonic powers have risen and fallen throughout human history. The declining hegemon abandons the soft power of persuasion for the hard power of armaments. It wastes blood and treasure in foreign adventures.

Financial manipulation and economic chaos predominate as the hegemonic currency goes into decline. Today, slowing growth worldwide, uncontrolled printing of money, negative interest rates for many government bonds, declining oil prices, and manipulated financial markets are all facets of a system at the edge of collapse.

We all know that a growth economy cannot expand without limits. Population growth is a tremendous multiplier of economic activity and resource depletion. The Holocene is the sixth great age of extinctions. Climate change, toxic chemicals, habitat destruction, resource depletion, and many other factors drive the myriad human and ecosystem diseases of our time. The fabric of life itself is unraveling.
Continue reading

Enneagram: An Archetypal Psychology

I have been studying the Enneagram. Enneagram is an archetypal psychology – “a model of personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types,” Wikipedia tells us.

Enneagram provides those drawn to it with a tool for understanding ourselves and others in a compassionate way. When we understand the archetypes at work within us, we are less tempted to blame ourselves for how we are in the world or blame others for how they are. Enneagram also provides a tool for those working on inner evolution.

The contemporary uses of Enneagram derive from wisdom teachings rooted in Jewish, Christian, Sufi, and Greek traditions.

One of the best on-line sources is The Enneagram Institute created by Don Riso and Russ Hudson. They offer a concise guide to the enneagram. They also have as a brief free test (and a longer fee-based one) to help you begin to find your type. Riso and Hudson are the authors of the most accessible text – The Wisdom of the Enneagram –The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. Continue reading