Fall Letter from Commonweal

December 15, 2019

Dear Commonweal Friends:

I hope my personal Winter Letter finds you well. You have already received the winter edition of our Commonweal News . Commonweal has never been stronger. Our 20 + programs in health and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice are thriving.

Oren Slozberg, our Executive Director, Arlene Allsman, our Managing Director, and Vanessa Marcotte, our Chief Financial Officer, join me in guiding our work. Our program directors and our program and administrative staff work with uncommon effectiveness and kindness.

Oren and I work closely in what he calls “intergenerational leadership.” He has a deep passion for our work. With this leadership team, I know Commonweal will be in good hands for the decades ahead.

The five projects I work on—the Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, The New School at Commonweal, and The Resilience Project—are thriving.

Healing Circles. Because We Heal in Community.
We heal in community. This is an ancient knowing.

We say: “If it touches your heart, if it guides you on your path, it’s a healing circle.”

Healing Circles emerged from 210 week-long retreats in the Commonweal Cancer Help Program over 34 years. We know the healing power of circles. We know the healing power of love.

We birthed Healing Circles with three centers who have done circle work based on the Cancer Help Program for more than 20 years: Callanish in Vancouver, BC; Harmony Hill in Union, Washington; and Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC.

Healing Circles works with many kinds of grief. We do not limit ourselves to any single method. We draw on circle work traditions from around the world.

Our new teaching centers with multiple circles include Healing Circles Langley on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, and Healing Circles Houston. Healing Circles Langley is our leading training center. Healing Circles Houston just did an excellent nurse training. We have a strong center in Jerusalem and nascent centers in India, Zurich, and Bangkok.

We completed our first 2019 Commonweal Healing Circles Leadership Training on November 15. We practiced circle work during four day-long trainings over seven months.

The outcomes were powerful for almost all participants. Kathleen Kraemer and Shelia Opperman coordinated this first Healing Circles Leadership Training.

Our 2020 Healing Circles Leadership Training starts early in the new year. No special background is required. Learn more about Healing Circles at healingcirclesglobal.org and about our Commonweal trainings at commonweal.org/hcc/hc-training-2020/.

Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies. Because We Need Guidance.
Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies (BCCT) is now the reference integrative cancer resource on the web. Widely regarded as “encyclopedic” and endorsed by leading integrative cancer practitioners, BCCT offers evidence-based reviews of more than 85 integrative therapies. We have comprehensive reviews of breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers so far.

In November the Scheidel Foundation made a generous three-year grant to strengthen BCCT outreach, social media, and research. Scheidel Foundation President Miki Scheidel is joining our BCCT team in a senior (volunteer) staff capacity. Miki’s dedication to BCCT stems from seeing her father extend his life, improve the quality of his life, and find inner healing through integrative cancer care. Miki is based in Bangkok, where her husband is a foreign service officer. She brings great skills to our work. We are grateful. Nancy Hepp, Laura Pole, and Kozo Hattori lead our BCCT work. BCCT.ngo.

Commonweal Will Soon Be Powered by Sunlight
Commonweal will soon be powered by the sun. The symbolic significance is beyond words. An anonymous angel investor kindled the holy fire. We will be insulated from inevitable grid shutdowns. Our energy bills will drop to near zero. We still need substantial additional support to purchase batteries. You can endow a battery for $10,000! We’ll put your name on it!

The recent fires demonstrated that our generators were not adequate. An anonymous friend helped us purchase a new generator for Pacific House, our 12-bedroom retreat center building. This same friend previously supported an extensive renovation of the interior of Pacific House. We are grateful.

How to Live Through the Great Transition
The world will change in 2020. The only question is the specific trajectory of the perfect storm of environmental, social, and technological global stressors.

Environmental crises grow more frequent—fires, hurricanes, floods, droughts, burning heat, and freezing cold.

Climate change, toxics, warming oceans, rapid species decline, and the melting of polar ice and glaciers continue unabated.

Governments print fiat currencies and issue below-zero interest government bonds without limit.

Technology dominates every sector of life: artificial intelligence, quantum computers, nanotechnology, robotics, cyberattacks, and surveillance capitalism.

The wretched of the earth flee war, violence, poverty, and climate change. Barriers rise everywhere to stop them from finding safety.

Liberal democracies falter as authoritarian strongmen rise on waves of populist rage.

All life is entering a great funnel. Only a remnant will emerge. Will humanity be a part of the remnant? What kind of humanity? We cannot escape the perfect storm of two dozen interacting global stressors. How will we live through the transition—what Joanna Macy has termed the “Great Turning?”

Stanley Wu Named Coordinator of The Resilience Project
The Commonweal Resilience Project seeks to help us navigate the perfect storm. Stanley Wu has joined Commonweal as Resilience Project Coordinator. Stanley has a doctorate in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He brings a lifetime of experience with resilient communities–living in an off-the-grid Dutch regenerative farming community and managing all the systems for an off-the grid community in Oregon. Stanley writes:

Since I find collapse more likely to occur than not, I find the ideas around collapse natural to explore despite the gravity and seriousness of our global predicament.

I had the fortune to experience regenerative farming and permaculture practices while living on an off-the-grid Dutch farming community. I developed a working knowledge that grew along side my theoretical understandings of the global food systems. In a somewhat radical experiment, we farmed in an adaptive manner congruent with one possible scenario of a post-carbon world. Completely off the grid without electricity or running water, salvaging local resources for furniture and fuel and bartering for the essentials we could not produce ourselves, we honestly explored the limits of what was necessary to survive and thrive.

We reimagined the social contract, power, democracy, and the process of dispute resolution. In some of the most dire outlooks, societal structures will become more localized and likely to be significantly re-imagined.

I believe for those working on the issues of resilience and feeling the weight of the subject, it is important to remember that change can bring growth in unexpected ways.

This element really hit home in Holland while I was living off the grid and in community with almost no material possessions. In the evenings we lit candles, huddled around the fire and talked. We grew food, and my work was not separated from my sustenance or satisfaction by a complicated economy. The priorities in my life changed. Other than my marriage, it was the most profoundly peaceful and deeply fulfilling period of my life.

Our vision: (1) bring the resilience movement to global consciousness, (2) encourage resilience thinking and planning, and (3) practice resilience in our personal and community lives. Join us at resilienceproject.ngo.

The Fall Gathering
This year the Commonweal Fall Gathering had more than 70 participants. Most were young people. Most were young people of color. Most had a wide range of gender identifications. All were passionate about the perfect storm we face. The Gathering was led by Oren Slozberg and Victoria Santos, with strong support from visionaries like Orland Bishop and Gigi Coyle.

This was the fifth year we have offered the Gathering. The Summer Gatherings started 25 years ago at Hollyhock Conference Center on Cortes Island in British Columbia.

Commonweal Friends Rick Ingrasci and Peggy Taylor created the Gatherings. They then created the Winter Gathering at the Whidbey Institute. And then they helped us start the Fall Gatherings at Commonweal.

The Gatherings build on a combination of theater improv techniques, plenary talks by visionary speakers, and flash talks by a wide range of participants. They also build on the Power of Hope summer camps, which Peggy also started with our late friend Charlie Murphy. Oren also brought the Power of Hope camps to Commonweal.

Both the Fall Gathering and the Power of Hope summer camp embody Oren’s vigorous commitment to strengthening our contributions to a young and diverse community at Commonweal. Oren is also leading an initiative sponsored by the Fetzer Institute to create a network of retreat centers across the country devoted to social, environmental, and justice issues.

The Migrant Support Network
Commonweal keeps reinventing itself to meet the urgent needs of our time. Angela Oh and Ying Ming Tu have worked with art and contemplative practice for ex-cons and others through their Gift of Compassion Project in Los Angeles. Now they have created the Migrant Support Network at Commonweal.

This is a hard story to tell briefly, but it goes like this. Pancho Ramos Stierle is a visionary Mexican-American friend of Commonweal. He was undocumented. He left academics after studying astrophysics at U.C. Berkeley. He began to follow the teachings of Gandhi in earnest. At the Commonweal Fall Gathering in 2018, he decided he would walk from the Bay Area to the United States-Mexico border. He carried no money, no papers, nothing at all. He was accompanied at various stages by Angela and other friends. He crossed the border with Angela. He and Angela were detained.

In Tijuana, Pancho met a pastor determined to create a place to shelter and care for refugees. The pastor wanted to buy a piece of land to house them. Pancho’s commitment to help brought support from his friends at Commonweal and at Service Space, a remarkable Buddhist network founded by our friend Nipun Mehta.

Angela takes up the story:

In the parsonage of a church in Tijuana, I face the conditions of the place where over 350 migrants have found food and shelter…[The pastor was just preparing an agreement to buy the property for $47,000. He was turning over the first $5000 to the owner of the property. He didn’t have the rest.]

I was worried: “Are you sure you don’t want to give yourself the ability to extend your time for raising the next $42,000?” “What if something happens and you just need another month?”

The pastor’s response was clear, “I know that this is going to happen.” He smiled. “I am not worried at all. There is no doubt that the property will be a school, a small clinic, and a space where the children can play.”

The pastor has lived in this place for 25 years. For 10 years, his church has served local residents. For three years, he has been receiving migrants. The governments of the United States and Mexico are implementing horrible, inhumane policies for asylum seekers and migrants. The church is an essential safe place on their journeys.

The camp is full of children who have no place to play. The sewage ditch serves as entertainment where pigs and piglets can be watched while standing on a small overhang. A dusty, unpaved road marks the last 300 yards before arriving at the sanctuary and its two shelter spaces. The deteriorating road makes trash hauling impossible. The trash gets burned. The toxic fumes are a cause of concern for the people in the shelters.

To create a safe space during times of crises, people do what they can. Some people stay informed. Some wait. Some risk their lives.

The only thing that is real is what is right in front of one at this very moment in the desert. Every step can have huge consequences. The synchronicity that happens when certain conditions and events occur— karmic connections, both material and ethereal—create what does not yet exist. There are those who live in this way. They are visionaries vested with an infinite amount of faith and willingness to work.

For my part, bearing witness and offering what I can contribute—with slightly less faith than the visionary—is to transmit as best as I can, to you the reader—who may not ever see, but can trust, that all this is true.

What is needed to deepen the resolve that good must come out of evil? What step can one take to ease the suffering in the world right now, in this very moment? This is where consciousness can take you. This is beyond imagination.

Conclusion: Please Help Us Support Commonweal
There is so much more I wish could say. I hope I have given you a flavor of our work.

For 44 years, we have sought to be of service. We work in health and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice.

We reinvent Commonweal constantly to meet new times and needs.

The years ahead will be hard. But there will also be great courage, great beauty, great joy, and great opportunities to serve.

The simple truth is we can’t do the work without your support. Grants matter greatly. But individual contributions are equally at the heart of what sustains us.

Please contribute what you can to Commonweal. A recurrent monthly contribution on your credit card is a beautiful way to support us. We welcome single contributions as well.

The donate button on our website shows how you can support all of our work or contribute to specific projects you care about.

We are especially grateful when you include Commonweal in your estate planning. We love creative gifts of property, vehicles and the like. You can put things you don’t need to work in service to life.

Please join us again in support of the Great Work.


With gratitude,
Michael Lerner