Courage in Dark Times

Choosing Resilience in the Face of Global Systems Collapse

This is a working paper. It is in a period of rapid evolution as of 3/12/18. Comments are welcome, though I cannot respond personally to all.

What Future?

What does the future look like? We cannot know.

To the best of our knowledge, humanity faces an unprecedented global crisis. The prospects for social, environmental and economic collapse, degradation, and transformation are unmistakable.

I do not preclude some miraculous way out of this dilemma—a non-polluting safe energy source, a transformation of human consciousness, a global commitment to sharing resources, an ethic of providing food and shelter for all, an end to tribalisms, a deep acceptance of diversity, a commitment to ending population growth, green chemistry, control of technologies, and more. But the probability of whatever combined miracles we would need is rather low.

There are, it is true, signs of hope. There are global improvements in public health and education, and reductions in extreme poverty. There is global awareness of climate change and global efforts to combat it. There are global movements toward environmental protection, democratic norms, human rights, women’s rights, the rights of other disenfranchised communities, and other important causes. New technologies also bring gains as well as dangers. There are also techno-optimists and those like Harvard’s Stephen Pinker who argue these are the best of times. Continue reading

Enneagram: Some Amateur Reflections


I’m reading a slender volume by Claudio NaranoEnnea-Type Structures: Self Analysis for the Seeker. Naranjo is a Chilean psychiatrist, now in his 80s, who lives in Berkeley. He is a founding interpreter of the enneagram of personality. He was a close friend of Carlos Castaneda, a pioneer of entheogenic studies, and one of three named successors to Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy.

Naranjo learned the enneagram from Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian-born founder of the Arica School.

The Enneagram Institute website is an excellent starting place to learn enneagram. Here is its historical section.

Enneagram was brought to the West by G.I. Gudjieff, the Armenian-Greek spiritual teacher and founder of Fourth Way studies. Continue reading

A Few Favorite Things…


Dear New School Friends:

Thank you for being so generous in supporting The New School in 2017. We depend on you. You have been most generous.

What can I say about the new year? The political drama continues, but the culture is responding. The #MeToo movement is an extraordinary cultural phenomenon. It is perilous to read history in the making. But this does appear a lasting step forward for women — and for men as well.

I won’t let the political drama take over my life. This is an article of faith for me. So I devote my evenings especially to the concerns of The New School — nature, culture, and the inner life.

Over the holidays, I read Charles Dickens seriously for the first time. Hard Times, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield.
I also read a biography of Dickens — not among the best, so I won’t name it, but it got me started reading the novels. Continue reading

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

fire north bay sun

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


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

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



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

circle of hands
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