Angle of Vision Reflections on nature, culture, inner life. Michael Lerner Thu, 24 Aug 2017 16:02:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Noise of Time Thu, 24 Aug 2017 16:02:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Pablo-Picasso-Guernica-1937-1

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.

The Noise of Time initially appears to be the latest addition to a hybrid literary form with which we are increasingly familiar–the fictional biography. Recent examples range from Colm Tóibin’s The Master (which presented a repressed and unhappy Henry James) to Nuala O’Connor’s excellent Miss Emily (which gave us a willful and tormented Emily Dickinson). As with all great novels, though–and make no mistake, this is a great novel, Barnes’s masterpiece–the particular and intimate details of the life under consideration beget questions of universal significance: the operation of power upon art, the limits of courage and endurance, and the sometimes intolerable demands of personal integrity and conscience.

I have been sitting with the title. It feels so apt to our time.

As I understand the phrase, both Mandelstam and Shostakovitch struggled with how to hear themselves, and how to make their voices heard, over the noise of their time.

Great art, literature, and music characteristically transcend political categories, even when engaged with the issues of their time. There is within each of a like capacity for transcendence in our private lives, in the capacity to hear our inner voices. The noise of our time seeks to steal the inner silence we need.

Strategies for protecting inner silence differ. Some seek not to let the news in. Others let the news in but keep it fenced off from the parts they hold dear. Still others–who like to do their creative work in noisy places–create an inner resistance as a stimulus to creativity.

This is not an argument for quietism. The times call us to protect everything we hold dear. It is, instead, a reminder that, among the things we hold dear, perhaps the most important is the silence at our core. We need to protect our ability to hear the sounds of silence.

The Blue Whale on Bolinas Beach Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:16:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> whale-hero
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.



The Bolinas Blue Whale

Being near the 80-foot blue whale that washed up at Bolinas was a source of awe for many, especially in the day or so before the stench became unbearable. There is sadness for the dead animal. The reminder of our own mortality, as well. And this was death on a grand scale.

Then came the realization of our complicity in the death. Anyone familiar with threats to great whales probably surmised the cause of death. The necropsy confirmed our guess. The whale had been struck by a ship. Anything else would have been less expected.

Ship strikes, as they are called, are a well-known and very real whale conservation issue, though meaningful data on species and incidents are understandably hard to come by. A large ship can hit a whale without those on board being aware it happened.

Populations of some great whales are so low that ship strikes are a known threat to their recovery. The International Whaling Commission and, in the US, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as several private whale conservation organizations, have programs to try to reduce ship strikes. Their efforts focus on areas where ship strikes could affect the most endangered whale populations.*

These accidents have likely become more common because of the success of the international whale conservation campaigns that began in the late ‘60s and continue today. It’s worth recalling that the US stopped hunting whales less than 50 years ago. The last whaling station was here in the Bay Area, at Point Molate in Richmond. The last humpback whale was processed there — for dogfood — in 1971, the year I moved to Bolinas.

Most great whale populations have seen strong recoveries after being driven to near extinction in the 20th century. Thanks to the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium, we’ve stopped killing whales intentionally. There are a few exceptions: Norway, Iceland, South Korea, and Japan are the “outlaws,” though they restrict their hunting to minke whales, the smallest and most numerous of the great whales. Small indigenous groups in several countries, including the U.S., conduct more-or-less well-supervised subsistence hunting.

But the whaling moratorium, now 31-years old, shows that most of the world realizes whales are more valuable, aesthetically and economically, alive rather than dead. As a result, we can count on thrilling whale-watching encounters along our coast and wherever great whales congregate. Whale-watching trips give many thousands of people that experience every year. That wasn’t true when I first spent time on the Farallon Islands in the early 1970s. No blue whales were observed from the Farallones before 1978. But PRBO biologists and volunteers recorded more than 100 eight years later, and over 400 were observed in 2003. The numbers vary considerably from year to year, but the upward trend has been clear. Those data agree with what whale biologists are seeing for blues, humpbacks, and most other whale species elsewhere in the world.

So the success of whale conservation over the past 50 years means there are more great whales. Some of the species, including blues and humpbacks, are attracted to the east coast of the North Pacific because the California Current, one of the most productive ocean currents in the world, supports the masses of krill and other small marine species that baleen whales require. Cordell Bank, north of the Farallones, is a particularly rich feeding area. But three shipping lanes that converge on the Golden Gate have heavy freighter and tanker traffic. That’s where the ships encounter these big, relatively slow-moving creatures — in effect, the pedestrians of the area that are crossing the street where there are no cross walks or stop lights.

The reality is that our normal existence is a threat to at least some individual whales. The ships come and go because we want them to: we buy things made elsewhere, we ship our products around the world, we drive cars that use crude oil that arrives in tankers. Increased whale populations mean a greater risk that some of them will meet the same fate as the Bolinas whale.

However, even if we continue the moratorium on whaling and could end ship strikes (reducing them to zero is highly unlikely), the great whales must avoid other threats to their existence. For example, in the dry language of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the body that maintains the global list of endangered species:
During this century, a profound reduction in the extent of sea ice in the Antarctic is expected, and possibly a complete disappearance in summer, as mean Antarctic temperatures rise faster than the global average. The implications of this for blue whales are unclear but warrant monitoring.
What might be the implications for blue whales? The great whale populations in the Antarctic that live on krill are one example. Big krill populations depend on lots of sea ice in the southern winter. Global warming appears to be reducing sea ice. Will the krill, which depend on the ice, and the whales, which depend on the krill, also disappear? Might food supplies for other whale species and populations in other places also become inadequate in a changing ocean? If they do, there will be no individual whales washing up on our coast for us to mourn. They will simply disappear.

Burr Heneman
June 1, 2017


Whale Blues

Forty years ago, undergoing Jungian analysis after the failure of my first marriage in London, I had a series of dreams in which I encountered a whale and it looked closely at me….. Neither the therapist nor I were ever able to articulate what this meant but it remains one of the most profound experiences of my life. So I was excited when I heard that a Blue Whale had been seen floating off Bolinas; the small N. Californian coastal town I have lived in for 35 years. The name Bolinas, according to some local historians may be a corruption of the Portugese word for whales: “baulenes” certainly sounds the same but it also may be a word from the now extinct Coastal Miwok natives who lived here when the first Spanish/Mexican family of Gregorio Briones obtained the land grant from the King of Spain for this area in the 1820s. Every year in January the whales can be seen from the tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula as they migrate south to breed in the Sea of Cortez. But these are usually Grey whales, or, rarely, Humpbacks. The Blue Whale is not often seen unless from a boat far out to sea at the Farallon Islands or beyond.

The Blue Whale that floated in on a very high tide Wednesday night crossed Duxbury Reef and now rests at the foot of the eroding cliffs below Poplar Road. It is a known individual; a young female identified by her unique fluke pattern in 1999 and seen at least 11 times since, twice with calves, mostly in the Santa Barbara Channel. She could have lived another 60 years or more……

On Saturday morning May 27th, 2017, about 40 marine biologists, led by teams from the California Academy of Science and the Marin Marine Mammal Center, performed a necropsy on the dead whale. The removed her eye, pelvis, parts of her ear, and many other tissue and organ samples. This will help to know more about these largest of all Earth creatures, as not that much is known now. I watched as the biologists carved her up and I have never seen so many happy scientists…. Most were women and seemed to be very efficient about the tasks.

My daughter asked me how I could stand to watch as the stomach, intestines, blubber, etc., was removed and laid on the beach for scavenger’s later meals as I am very squeamish about anyone’s medical or physical descriptions. It is because this is on a scale beyond any personal consideration; the majesty of this being is so great that even being dismembered by ant-like humans she maintains a dignity and serenity that transcends human concerns. This creature is longer than my house, weighs tons, may be the largest being ever to live on Earth, dives up to a thousand feet to feed, has a tongue that weighs more than an elephant, eats tiny shrimp-like krill, may live 80 years, can grow to 130 feet in length, and is an endangered species.

All ages were present, observing: very young children staring silently, teenagers asking intelligent questions of any scientists who came near, older people talking quietly to each other as fluids jetted and parts heaved as containing flesh was cut away and a spray of something yellowish flew out from high on one side.

Overall and inescapable was the SMELL, a pervasive throat-gripping miasma of great strength that I could still taste in my sinuses 12 hours later.

Apparently she was killed by blunt force trauma, a speeding ship breaking many of her ribs and fracturing spinal vertebrae. This brings up many questions around our own complicity in “Modern Life”: the headlong rush to use the latest communication or computing devices being rushed to us from China or where-ever to fill our on-line orders for consumer goods of all kinds. This article is being composed on one such device rather than being written in loopy longhand on sheets of crisp white paper made from crushed swollen tree-fibres. Although it may yet be printed on some… (Oh, those 1950s school films of Canadian log-jams rushing to factories to be shredded into pulp for quarto or foolscap…).

This is what we have come to…… but maybe Bolinas Blue Whale Town can start to turn it around, push back against the tide, fight for slower ship speeds entering the Golden Gate shipping lanes and other places where known crossings of whale migratory routes are intersecting with harbor approaches (Seattle, Long Beach, etc.). As usual it is up to us, the slightly loony spiritually aware outsiders, to spearhead a movement in opposition to the mainstream.

Long Live California Dreamers….

Howard Dillon
May 30th 2017

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Politics, Friendship, and the People of the Book Tue, 30 May 2017 15:24:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> books-hero


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.

Protect Europe

I leave Europe with one principle belief–the importance of protecting the European enterprise from the raging forces that threaten its cultural, social, and environmental values.

For 70 years after World War II, the U.S. was, for all its faults, a beacon of liberty for people around the world. Now, enlightened leadership in the West lies with the practiced Angela Merkel in Germany and the bold neophyte Emmanuel Macron in France. Merkel confronts those who celebrate Germany’s tragic past. Macron is discovering whether he can actually govern in France’s fractured system.

Europe is under siege. The global market system puts immense pressure on European cultural, social, and environmental protections. Far right parties rise because centrists have no good answers to either globalization or immigration.

Brexit may strengthen European resolve to defend itself. The U.K. has always been an external force in continental Europe, aligned for decades with U.S. market and political forces. Signs of a revival of transnational European sentiment are everywhere.


I return to George Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore near Place Saint Michel. I remember 1961, the year I spent haunting the bookstore while I worked nights as a copyboy for The New York Times International. I buy Jacques Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship.

I’ve avoided Derrida for 40 years. He appeared on my horizon among literary friends while I was in graduate school at Yale. Deconstructionism seemed antithetical to me.

I venture into Derrida sitting in Jardin du Luxembourg. His work is infinitely complex. This gives you a taste. Derrida writes:

During the workshop in 1989 from whence this book derived,

Each session began opened with these words from Montaigne, quoting a remark attributed to Aristotle: “O my friends, there is no friend.” Week after week, its voices, tones, modes and strategies were tried on, to see if its interpretation could then be sparked.

Montaigne believed “sovereign” friendships were only possible between men. Not in my experience. Derrida cites Nietzsche on “star friendships.”

We are friends that have become estranged. But this was right…That we have to become estranged is the law above us; by the same token we should also become more venerable for each other–and the memory of our former friendship more sacred. There is probably a tremendous but invisible stellar orbit in which our very different ways and goals may be included as small parts of this path; let us rise up to this thought. But our life is too short and our power of vision to small for us to me more than friends in the sense of this sublime possibility–let us then believe in our star friendship even as we are compelled to be earth enemies.

Derrida notes the debate on friendship between Plato and Aristotle.

Michael Deguy…concentrates on the Aristotelian reminder, against Plato, of the singularity of this, of this friend. Let us cease to speak of Friendship, of the eidos of friendship; let us speak of friends. This is the enormous vein, the inexhaustible topos, of the quarrel Aristotle believed it was necessary to pick with Plato’s ghost. Now we have here today what is happening to us with the ruin which affects us and which we have adopted as our theme: this collapse of the friendship concept will perhaps be a chance, but along with Friendship, the collapse carries off the Friend too, and there is nothing fortuitous in the fact that the sudden burst of this chance at the heart of the ruin is still linked, in what in our time is most untimely, to literature, to the literary community.

I understand the deconstructionist “logic” of this contemporary “ruin” of Friendship. I prefer the Sufi view. The (neo-platonic) Sufis say “the friend leads to the Friend.” Through the human “friend” we glimpse the cosmic Friend. In the philosophical tradition, the love of a true friend surpasses romantic love. Yet friendship has posed endless philosophical enigmas from Plato onward.

My friend Rupert Sheldrake, the British biologist and parapsychology researcher, has developed a concept of fields of morphic resonance. These fields of morphic resonance revive for our time the Platonic idea. This might ultimately rescue neo-platonic Friendship from the acidity of Aristotle and modernity.

I do not require Sheldrake’s new science to align myself with the Sufis. My intuition tells me that Oneness is experientially, phenomenologically, real (for me). My experience is that love, or its companion, friendship, offer intimations of the eternal. I find I can read Derrida gratitude, no longer threatened by the ruin of deconstructionism.

People of the Book

I consider myself among the People of the Book. The phrase refers to adherents of the Abrahamic faiths. I mean those who genuflect before great texts…I mean those who dance with incandescent books–as my father’s fathers danced ecstatically with the Torah. The Nazis burned books. The books I treasure combust spontaneously in my mind and heart.

George Whitman’s bookstore is a temple for People of the Book. So is Point Reyes Books in my own West Marin County of Northern California. Some independent bookstores are temples of the book. They have the unmistakable scent of sanctity. Paris is filled with them..

Machiavelli, exiled from power, once wrote that at night he bathed, dressed in white, and joined the company of the ancients. For Machiavelli, the ancients were more alive than most of his contemporaries.

The great Yale scholar Harold Bloom avows that Shakespeare invented the world we live in. He claims Hamlet and Falstaff are more alive than most people. If you credit the Jungian notion (held by Joseph Campbell, Henri Corbin and many others) that archetypes are autonomous forces that live through us, Bloom’s claim is not risible.

For People of the Book, these relationships–influences, rivalries, friendships–across time and space with writers and their created beings can be more alive than what passes for real in our lives and on our television screens.

One is fortunate, in a lifetime, to find a few friends. Some live with us in what we call the real world. Others live through us–our dead, our deities, and those who come to us through the word, through art, through music, through intuition. Some sensitives tell us such spirits surrounds us. I know that I do not know. What I do know is that I trust friendship.

Michael Lerner

Politics and Philosophy in Paris Mon, 15 May 2017 22:34:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

Nor does mainstream Europe have good answers on globalization. With China and the United States in a race to the bottom in economic, social, and environmental protections, how can Europe sustain its commitment to social democracy and the environment?

The questions play out in two specific issues I have been tracking on annual visits to Europe: chemical policy and trade agreements. I’ve tracked European chemical policy for a decade. After the adoption of the REACH legislation in 2006 – the most important precautionary chemical policy reform in world history – funders and NGOs (non-governmental organizations or non-profits in U.S. terms) who had pushed REACH through disbursed, many moving on to climate change issues. Industry, surprised by the passage of REACH, vowed “never again.” The corporations moved massive assets to Brussels to gut REACH implementation. A new NGO coalition coalesced around the issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals. I have followed that policy struggle ever since.

I’ve been tracking global trade treaties for the past three years. The story is more complex than I can readily describe here. Lori Wallach’s Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen is an excellent start.

These so-called “trade” treaties aren’t about tariffs. They seek to establish irreversible rights of multinational corporations to override democratic decisions about how countries protect health, the environment, justice, privacy, and much more. They form a superordinate network of global corporate governance. They give corporations the right to sue countries for lost profits in private corporate-controlled courts outside the jurisdiction of national legal systems. They interfere with the regulatory independence of the executive power and the legislative power to pass laws that protect citizens. They are developed in extraordinary secrecy under the boring rubric of “trade.” Most people think trade is good so assume these treaties must be good.

These treaties have acronyms like TTIP (between the U.S. and E.U.), TPP (between the U.S. and Asia), and CETA (between the E.U. and Canada). There are hundreds more. In an unanticipated achievement, a coalition of E.U., U.S. and other international NGOs defeated two of these treaties – TTIP and TPP last year. The U.S. NGOs had help from Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. They had more help from widespread revulsion with these treaties in the E.U. – revulsion that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in massive protests. The organizing and the intellectual capital for the campaigns came from unions and NGOs. The NGOs won on the merits of the debate. Der Spiegel, an influential German periodical, said the opposition had better arguments than the proponents – a remarkable achievement.

The multinational corporations have come back with a plethora of new strategies. Their interests are directly at stake and they have unlimited resources, outspending the opposition by at least 1000 to 1. They are forging a patchwork of bilateral and regional treaties to replace the overarching trade treaties on which they were defeated. They are moving many of their objectives forward under the rubric of “regulatory reform.” The provisions of the TTIP and TPP treaties on which they were defeated are being pasted directly into the new bilateral and regional agreements. The threats to health, the environment, democracy, and human rights are moving rapidly into dozens of other agreements.

In both cases (trade reform and chemical policy reform), NGOs are David battling Goliath. These networks of citizens who don’t want to be poisoned and don’t want corporations to rule the world have won significant battles. But they are heavily outspent by the limitless resources of the multinational corporate community.

The current neoliberal (as it is called in Europe) economic paradigm of unlimited growth – and the increasing power of multinational corporations – continues to degrade conditions of life for people and planet. The opposition will only succeed if a credible economic model emerges that challenges neoliberalism. Components of that model are emerging, but no one has yet put the pieces together in a way that attracts popular and intellectual support. It is an immense task.

Most Europeans – other than adherents to right-wing parties – are aghast at the American president. For Europeans, trade treaties and chemical policy agreements loom far larger than in the U.S. They have far more to lose in the “harmonization” process that dilutes their social, economic, and environmental protections. They are also aghast at Brexit. In the U.S. we see Brexit largely as a complex negotiation. In the EU, hundreds of thousands of people who are citizens of one country have lived for decades in other countries. They wonder what will happen with their health care and numerous other benefits.

Many Europeans are deeply angry at Britain. The E.U. has spent decades making concessions to the U.K., which favors dirtier environmental policies as well as economic globalization. In short, the U.K. stands for deregulation. The U.K. has often been the tip of the spear allowing U.S. interests to degrade European protections of culture, the environment, health, and more. The E.U. has a strong political interest in not letting the U.K. exit the E.U. with a good deal. On the other hand, if the U.K. becomes the “Singapore of Europe,” which is quite possible, the E.U. faces a race to the bottom from the U.K., the U.S., and China – and those pressures may be quite overwhelming. So the E.U. feels beleaguered, confused, and frightened.

At the same time, there is a backlash against the U.K., which is playing in favor of the E.U. National politicians have spent years beating up on the E.U. headquarters in Brussels. Now there is a growing wave of popular support for the E.U. Millions of people are realizing what they can lose if the E.U. collapses. They want to reform it – but they want to save it. This helped Macron win in France. It will likely help Merkel win reelection in Germany. It helped defeat the right wing in the Netherlands and Austria.

But the right wing parties won’t go away. They have clear rhetorical (at least) answers on immigration and globalization. On globalization, their rhetoric is often close to that of the left-wing parties. So the reprieve for centrism may or may not last. But the centrist parties are getting a reprieve.

* * *

I came to Paris 60 years ago, at 13, with my parents and two brothers. I came alone at 15. I lived in Paris and then drove a Lambretta scooter across France. I returned at seventeen to work for a year as a copyboy for The New York Times International in 1961. On October 17 of that year, the French police massacred more than 200 Algerians marching in support of peace talks to end the Algerian civil war.

Plastique bombs were exploding across the city. I lived in a cold-water hotel room on Rue de la Huchette near Place Saint Michael. The toilet was a squatter down the hall. The price was $5 a night. I drove a used BMW 250 motorcycle to work through the icy Parisian winter. I started work at 6 p.m. and got off at 2 a.m. I carried the articles from the city desk down to the printing plant where the paper was still set in hot lead type. The printers were Communists. The printers union was the oldest union in Europe. Printers were the earliest literate working people.

Once I was swept up in a police round up of Algerians. I was released at the police station when I produced my American passport. I haunted Shakespeare & Company, the French bookstore near Place Saint Michael. The proprietor, George Whitman, appreciated my bookish nature.

At year’s end I joined a high school friend to drive to Moscow with a caravan of French Communist trade unionists visiting the motherland. We weren’t political – this was the only way to make the trip. We drove a Deux Chevaux Citroen, which resembles a corrugated sardine can. In Moscow, two young women who said they were daughters of Russian intelligence agency operatives befriended us. They took us to a nightclub. Apparently they reported we were harmless. We drove out of Russia through Finland and up past the Arctic Circle to the land of eternal sunlight.

I return at age 73 for perhaps the 20th time. My wife and I rented a tiny 4th floor apartment overlooking the city in Montmartre. We were 100 steps below The Basilica of Sacre Coeur. Nuns and priests have prayed there 24 hours a day for 125 years.

For years I stayed in Paris with my friend the physician David Servan-Schreiber. David had come on a Cancer Help Program at our center in Washington, D.C., Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. The experience changed his life. He wrote his book, Anti-Cancer. He lived an exceptionally long time with brain cancer. He told me he saw me as an older brother. He came for Christmas with us in Bolinas one year. As he approached death, fading in and out of consciousness, he told his brother he should take notes on his experience to share with me. I suspect this beautiful agnostic was experiencing the (subjective at least) reality of a near-death experience.

Trained in political philosophy, I have an interest in the French tradition of maître penseurs, or master thinkers. David introduced me to French friends to discuss the decline of this great tradition. Most comprehensive systems of thought have eroded under the acid of modernity. Yet the French retain a reverence for master thinkers. Raymond Aaron, Michel Foucault, Merleau Ponty, Bertrand de Jouvenel, and Theillard de Chardin influenced me. Strangely, not Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I admired from a distance. I was more drawn to Simone de Beauvoir. Nor did Albert Camus really touch me. Later, I discovered the work of the French and Swiss Traditionalist thinkers Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schoen and others. Traditionalists embraced the perennial philosophy that was central to my informal philosophical thinking.

Traditionalists, especially Rene Guenon, were influenced by the great Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi. I have done three New School conversations on his work. Another great French scholar of Islam was Henri Corbin, whom I discussed with Tom Cheetham. Corbin was the author of Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi. Harold Bloom wrote an extended introduction:

Henry Corbin’s works are the best guide to the visionary tradition…. Corbin, like Scholem and Jonas, is remembered as a scholar of genius. He was uniquely equipped not only to recover Iranian Sufism for the West, but also to defend the principal Western traditions of esoteric spirituality.

Traditionalists are often politically conservative. Though understandable, I see no necessity for it. Brother David Steindl-Rast, whom I interviewed for his spiritual biography at The New School, is a beautiful example of a mystic dedicated to justice and the environment who embraces much of the perennial philosophy.

This week in Paris, I discovered some trenchant critiques of the perennial philosophy. These critiques are causing me to reconsider a 35-year commitment to the perennial philosophy. I won’t let go of lightly, but I understand the power of the critique. I had also, friends pointed out, falsely conflated the perennial philosophy with Thomas Berry’s thinking. Berry’s theology does not fall with the critiques of the perennial philosophy:

It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The Old Story — the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it — is not functioning properly, and we have not learned the New Story. The Old Story sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with a life purpose, energized action. It consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were…

If the supreme disaster in the comprehensive story of the Earth is our present closing down of the major life systems of the planet, then the supreme need of our times is to bring about a healing of the Earth through this mutually enhancing human presence to the Earth community. To achieve this mode of presence a new type of sensitivity is needed, a sensitivity that is something more than romantic attachment to some of the more brilliant manifestations of the natural world. A sensitivity that comprehends the larger patterns of nature, its severe demands as well as its delightful aspects, and is willing to see the human diminish so that other life forms might flourish.

Berry was influenced by Giamattista Vico (1668-1744), a master thinker of the Enlightenment who critiqued the expansion of rationalism and praised classical antiquity. Mary Evelyn Tucker and her husband John Grim at Yale carry on Berry’s tradition. I spoke with them in 2007. Tucker studied world religions in graduate school with noted cultural historian, Thomas Berry. She worked closely with Berry for 35 years and has edited a number of his books including Evening Thoughts, The Sacred Universe, Christian Future, The Fate of Earth, and Selected Writings on the Earth Community. She and her husband John Grim together carry on the legacy of Thomas Berry through their work in religion and ecology and the Journey of the Universe. They are managing trustees of the Thomas Berry Foundation.

In the shadow of Sacre Coeur, I thought about the European political dilemma. I reflected on European chemical policy and trade agreements. I reconsidered my belief in a perennial philosophy at the heart of the great religions. I disentangled the perennial philosophy from Thomas Berry’s search for a new story. I sense that my commitment to the perennial philosophy will survive in some form. I may draw closer to what William James called a “pluralistic mysticism.” Or I may accept a more personal claim, like the Dalai Lama’s statement, “My religion is kindness.” I know I feel a deep admiration for Thomas Berry’s new story. Still, the simple dictum “One mountain, many paths,” resonates for me. If the religious and spiritual traditions are to come together to help save the earth, then surely the search for some deep unity – and not just a strategic alliance – is of more than personal concern.

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Together We Are Stronger Thu, 09 Feb 2017 21:07:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

This Administration challenges our values in fundamental ways. So the question we ask ourselves is: how do we want to respond?

I will speak only for myself. I am not a Quaker, but I believe that the Quakers are a model of non-violent action on behalf of human dignity. They believe in universal access to “that of God in every person.” There are less than 400,000 adult Quakers, yet their quiet witness has been felt in the West for more than 350 years. They played a vital role in ending slavery. They have worked for peace, prison reform, and social justice — all causes dear to our hearts at Commonweal. They worship in silence together, speaking their truth into the center of their circles. These practices are central to our healing work.

We are surrounded by so much violence right now. The way of the Quakers, of Gandhi,
and of Martin Luther King is the way that beckons to me.

I must stand witness to the work of healing ourselves and healing the earth that has shaped our community at Commonweal for 40 years. I must hold this witness peacefully yet with deep clarity of purpose. I believe our country is better than this. I believe we are, together, stronger than this. I cannot be silent. I believe we shall overcome.

I hope you find your way as I seek to find mine.

Lighting Candles in Dark Times Thu, 15 Dec 2016 19:36:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> IMG_1755
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.

4. Tune out the news if it grieves you. Tune in to sounds, sights, thoughts, and experiences that nourish you.

5. Consider the suffering of others — those without food or shelter or safety. Reach out to help them. Here is one organization that can help.

6. Appreciate all the good people on the other side of the great divide in our country. Reach out to them in friendship and compassion.

7. Consider the Quakers — a quiet force in every important social movement since abolition. Their numbers are tiny. Their non-violent wisdom and dedication have changed the world.

8. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Recognize the power of candle lighting. “My religion is kindness,” says the Dalai Lama. Practice this life-giving way of being.

9. Carl Jung taught that consciousness grows only through suffering. Our suffering creates opportunities for growth of consciousness. Look for them.

10. Give to things that matter to you — to people and places and causes that make a difference in your life. It is actually true, in the deepest sense, that it is through giving that we receive.

Thank you for being part of The New School. Thank you for including us among the causes that matter to you.

If you haven’t done so already, please donate here or send your contribution to Commonweal, PO Box 316, Bolinas, California, 94924.

With warmest best in turbulent times,

A Reflection on Our Times Thu, 11 Aug 2016 23:05:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

Disparities of wealth grow deeper as natural resources of food, water, and other necessities of life grow scarcer. Drought and wars drive refugee populations to seek desperate refuge in the West. Barriers rise on frontiers around the world to stem the flood of the desperate.

Technological innovations are an under-reported disruptive force. Robotics and information technologies are replacing human workers. Bill Joy described how weapons of mass destruction are now joined in lethal import by technologies of mass destruction. Joy listed biotech, nanotech, and robotics. We could add synthetic chemistry and the whole intersection of information technologies with every domain of life.

As the drivers of conflict grow stronger, weapons grow more compact, powerful, and diverse. Technological society turns out to be acutely sensitive to disruption. Cyber attacks are the new norm, driven by hackers, non-state groups, and governments. Financial systems, electoral systems, power grids, and all forms of personal information and communication are open for exploitation. The net effect is a rebalancing of force in asymmetric conflicts. Those guarded by conventional power are vulnerable to state and non-state attacks from myriad sources.

When we focus narrowly on the minutiae of the American election, we lose this sense of context. The same forces are producing uprisings on the left and the right in Europe. These same forces foment a new nationalism in a re-arming Japan, a new assertiveness in China’s military policies, a right-wing president arming death squads against drugs in Indonesia, a new authoritarianism in Turkey, a further move to the right in Israel, Russian nationalist aggression, and militant Islamic terrorism..

Our time resembles the 1930s. Historian Adam Hochschild evokes this time in his magnificent new book Spain in Our Hearts. He describes the Spanish civil war and the rise of left- and right-wing forces in Spain, the United States, and Europe in a time of similar economic and political chaos.

Perhaps nothing conveys such a time better than Yeats.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

What is to be done? I need not add to exhortations of the solutions literature. Gary Snyder offers this:

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light.

There may be more wisdom in those last three lines than meets the eye.

A lady asked Ben Franklin, as he left Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 on the final day of deliberation, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – A Republic or a Monarchy?

Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

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Enneagram: An Archetypal Psychology Mon, 18 Apr 2016 20:33:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

Before reading further, you may want to look at their website.

Different authors name the nine Enneagram types differently. Riso and Hudson use the following:
enneagram types
1. The Reformer
2. The Helper
3. The Achiever
4. The Individualist
5. The Investigator
6. The Loyalist
7. The Enthusiast
8. The Challenger
9. The Peacemaker

It is not uncommon to have considerable difficulty discovering your type. You may well find yourself considering several. It is even more common not to “like” your type. Enneagram can uncomfortably reveal our shadow. The Enneagram tests, like the one offered by Riso and Hudson, may offer clues. I prefer to study the types rather than use the tests for guidance.

Enneagram posits that each of us develops a single core character structure in early life. Each point, or character structure, is connected to two other points that we move to either from a heart place or under stress. Each point has a “wing” relationship with one (or sometimes both) adjacent points. Each point also ranges in expression from lower to higher levels of evolution. Different investigators describe these relationships in different ways.

Enneagram was brought to the West by the spiritual teacher C.J. Gurdjieff (1886-1949). Enneagram was developed as an instrument for human transformation by Oscar Ichazo at his Arica School in Chile in the 1960s. Claudio Naranjo, a psychiatrist, learned the enneagram from Ichazo. Naranjo brought Enneagram to Berkeley where a remarkable circle of Enneagram students gathered around him.

Helen Palmer, who was part of Naranjo’s circle, brought Enneagram to wide public awareness with The Enneagram in Love and Work and The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life.

A. Hammed Ali, who uses the pen-name A.H. Almaas, is the founder of the Diamond Approach combining ancient teachings and modern depth psychology. He and his colleague Sandra Maitri were both in Naranjo’s circle. Almaas’s Facets of Unity is a brilliant contribution. Maitri has written The Spiritual Dimensions of the Enneagram and The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues, both valuable resources. Naranjo has contributed seminal enneagram studies, including Ennea-type Structures: Self-Analysis for the Seeker, The Enneagram of Society, and Enneagram in Psychotherapy.

Enneagram is taught at Stanford Business School. It is widely used in organizational development by people with no interest in its esoteric origins. It has had a powerful effect on the Jesuit imagination, as authors like Richard Rohr make clear in his fine book, The Enneagram – A Christian Perspective.

One excellent introduction to Enneagram is Beatrice Chestnut’s The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. Chestnut draws deeply on Naranjo’s work. According to Chestnut, Enneagram has an astonishing parallel with the lands Ulysses visits in Homer’s Odyssey. Chestnut says the lands Ulysses visits track the nine points on the Enneagram in the same order. Consider how unlikely it is that this parallel is accidental. It strongly suggests some version of Enneagram or a predecessor system was known to Homer.

There is also a close relationship between Enneagram and the Circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Chestnut quotes liberally from both Homer and Dante to illustrate the character points. Enneagram tracks with the seven Deadly Sins of Catholicism (plus two). Enneagram also tracks quite closely with the Jewish, Christian, and Hermetic Kabbalistic Tree of Life, or Ten Sephirot. Consider how unlikely it is that these are random coincidences. Finally, Naranjo demonstrated that the Enneagram types track with the major contemporary psychiatric diagnoses.

The Enneagram is one of many psychological typology systems. There are interesting parallels between the Jungian Myers-Briggs (MBTI) types and the Enneagram types, although MBTI has more than double the number of types. These and other personality typology systems are explored at

What I appreciate about Enneagram are its ancient roots, its congruence with the Abrahamic traditions, its uncanny resemblance to the Homeric lands Ulysses visits, and its deep relationship to Dante’s Circles of Hell. These parallels suggest to me that Enneagram taps into character constructs that have been remarkably stable in Western civilization for thousands of years.

My study of archetypal psychology began with Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. I studied James Hillman’s archetypal psychology. I also studied Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis. These studies are reflected in many New School conversations.

I find a useful resonance with Enneagram in Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis model, in which sub-personalities are arranged within a circle similar to the Enneagram circle. One can say that behind each sub-personality lies a complex, and behind each complex lies an archetype. In Assagioli, sub-personalities can be found in the lower, middle and upper unconscious. Likewise, in Enneagram, the Enneagram archetypes can ascend from low unconscious structures to evolved conscious ones. We are not prisoners of our Enneagram types. With evolution we come to encompass more types at higher levels. Likewise, with Assagioli, as we come to recognize our sub-personalities we can work more skillfully with them to move toward lower levels of intra-psychic conflict. This enables us to focus energies on life purpose. The Psychosynthesis diagram below is from Wikipedia: Imagine the sub-personalities as small circles surrounding the center point of consciousness and distributed through the lower, middle and upper unconscious.
enneagram graphic
1: Lower Unconscious
2: Middle Unconscious
3: Higher Unconscious
4: Field of Consciousness
5: Conscious Self or “I”
6: Higher Self
7: Collective Unconscious

In summary, I find Enneagram a fascinating tool for self-study and for understanding others. I find it helpful in understanding myself, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my co-workers, and indeed all those in whom I am interested. We have already had one New School conversation on Enneagram with Bill Glenn. Bill was also kind enough to do an illuminating workshop on Enneagram with Commonweal staff. There is no organizational endorsement of Enneagram. It interests some of us and is kindly tolerated by others. I expect to have future conversations on Enneagram at The New School.

Michael Lerner

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Soul and Polis in Difficult Times Thu, 03 Mar 2016 20:57:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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.

In both Europe and the United States, uncontrolled immigration is bringing tectonic challenges to national political cultures. It is clearly true, of course, that the United States and the European Union bear a heavy responsibility for creating the conditions that are causing unprecedented numbers of people to flee their homes and risk their lives. On both sides of the Atlantic, walls are going up to stop illegal immigration. But on both sides of the Atlantic, centrist policies are being weakened by attacks from left and the right. On both sides of the Atlantic, working and middle class white communities feel their livelihoods and identities threatened by immigrants.

The United States is arguably better than any other country in the world at assimilating immigrants. European countries are far less good at this, and most Asian and African countries no better. Yet large waves of immigrants have historically raised fear of inundation. We are in the middle of another wave of these fears.

From the perspective of the European press, there is a widespread fear of an American authoritarianism. Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, recently remarked, with respect to Edward Snowden’s revelations, that while we have not yet entered a totalitarian state, the levers of such a state are now in place.

This election cycle offer us an extraordinary debasement of political discourse. The next ten months will be filled with a level of toxicity in the media that has few recent precedents.

We are drawn into this media toxicity by the issues we care deeply about — but also by a certain horrified fascination. It is worth reflecting on how deeply we want to allow this toxicity to permeate our lives. It is one thing to engage in actions that protect our core values. It is another thing to give our horrified fascination free rein to pull us ever deeper into a swamp of despair.

The question I would pose to you is, “how do you hope to live skillfully through the coming year?” I find myself choosing to spend more time in nature. I continue to spend time with culture that nourishes me. And I seek to sustain the quiet necessary for an inner life.
Nature, culture, the inner life — these are the three preoccupations we share in The New School. So when the toxicity is more than you can handle, or a sense of despair threatens you, ask yourself whether you are following the true star that beckons you in these difficult times.

The Chinese sages were conscious of when they could serve their states and when they should retreat to mountain refuges. The balance of service to the polis and service to the soul has always been a delicate one. I am not proposing quietism. I am suggesting that we each consider how we live consciously through these times.


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ISHI Goes Back to Medical School Fri, 06 Nov 2015 02:02:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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

ISHI Goes Back to Medical School
by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Director, ISHI

Since the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness (ISHI) began at Commonweal 25 years ago, almost 16,000 medical students have completed The Healer’s Art course. Thousands of doctors and other health professionals have renewed and revitalized their calling and commitment to the core values of their work in Finding Meaning in Medicine groups and the hundreds of presentations and training workshops offered by ISHI. Like an old tree, ISHI continues to grow and put out nourishing fruit despite its age. Our newest program is now poised for national dissemination. The Power of Nursing is a discovery model curriculum for practicing nurses and nursing students that strengthens the professional resiliency of nurses at all levels of training and empowers the voice and healing wisdom of the nursing profession to shift the goals and practices of healthcare overall.

In 2016 I will be 78 years old. It is time for us to think not only of expanding our program of service, but also of ensuring that ISHI itself will continue to strengthen all health professionals in their commitment to the integrity of their work well into the future. Creating an endowment campaign that can offer this security of mission requires partners who are skilled in this outcome and resources beyond those necessary to simply create and implement programs. These skills and resources far exceed our own.

Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, is one of the schools that has taught The Healer’s Art course for more than a decade. In June, Dr. Margaret Dunn, Dean of Medicine at Wright State, approached us with an offer of partnership. If we would consider basing ISHI at the Boonshoft School of Medicine under her direct authority as Dean, she would hire the former Assistant Vice President of Advancement for the medical school to coordinate a multimillion dollar legacy fund and endowment to ensure ISHI’s future. In doing so she committed the expertise and support of the medical school’s grant writers, publicity and marketing departments, Internet experts, and fundraisers to achieve this goal. Her message was one that I had never before heard in more than 50 years of academic medicine. “I believe in your work,” she told us. “Let us help you.”

The depth of my gratitude to Michael Lerner for his extraordinary vision, his ability to withstand opposition and endure, his courage to generate and embrace new ideas, his profoundly intuitive recognition and nurturing of the seeds of change that hold the future, and his commitment to a better world know no bounds. Commonweal has been the birthplace of the ISHI work. There is no other place where we could have found the colleagueship and support to openly express radical ideas within the medical system or have the freedom to speak radical truth, the courage to take major professional risks, the encouragement to follow the best we knew, and the love that enabled us to face criticism and harsh judgment and persevere. Commonweal has made the work of ISHI possible. Wright State will make possible its future.

Many years ago at a dark time in the history of Commonweal and ISHI, Michael said to me, “Peace of mind is never the outcome of success; it comes from knowing that no matter what the outcome, we have chosen to live our lives dedicated to what matters.”

Twenty-five years ago Commonweal put its arms around ISHI and made it safe for us to dare. Commonweal and ISHI have grown up together and together we have grown large enough to put our arms around the world.

Bless you Michael. Bless you Commonweal. It has been an extraordinary journey and a great blessing.

With a deep and enduring love,

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
Founder and Director, The Institute for the Study of Heath and Illness