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.
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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

Soul and Polis in Difficult Times

balanced-rocks heroAs a general rule, we don’t cover politics at The New School. That said, we appear to be at a turning point in political discourse both in the United States and in Europe. The approach I take here is not a partisan one, but rather a reflection on how we balance our commitments to soul and polis in turbulent times. Continue reading

ISHI Goes Back to Medical School

Below you will find an important announcement from Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal. We celebrate ISHI’s new partnership with Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. The Medical School has made a wonderful commitment to creating an endowment so that ISHI’s work can continue for many years to come.

Rachel speaks for herself and for ISHI below. All I will add is my heartfelt gratitude that we have been able to support Rachel’s work at ISHI for the past 25 years. Rachel is a genius and a national treasure. Our partnership has been a gift to all of us at Commonweal. We are delighted that Rachel will continue to be active at Commonweal as Medical Director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program—a position she has held for 30 years—and as a senior faculty member for The New School at Commonweal and Healing Circles.

With gratitude to all who have supported and benefited from Rachel’s great work through ISHI,

Michael Lerner
President
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Francis: The Making of A Radical Pope

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People see Pope Francis in different ways. For those concerned with climate change, the environment, poverty and justice, he is an astonishing moral force. For those concerned with gay marriage, abortion rights, making women priests, and child-abuse, he is a disappointment. You cannot understand Francis unless you understand his story. That story is best told in Austen Ivereigh’s The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.

The New York Times called The Great Reformer “the best English-language biography of the pope to date.” Other reviews, including those from the most knowledgeable Catholic reporters, like John Allen at Crux, are equally enthusiastic.

Ivereigh is a British Catholic writer and commentator on religious and political issues. He writes: “This is a story not just of the man but of his three great reforms: of the Argentine Jesuit province, of the Argentine Church, and now of the Universal Church.” Continue reading