As unique individuals, each of us might be the only one who appreciates the difference we strive to make by acting in the world as we do. At the same time, we often underestimate the damage we do by undertaking those same actions. We are change agents by nature. And hugely successful. But not as we might intend.

I own a two-volume report of an international symposium sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, held in Princeton during June, 1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1193 pages in 2 volumes, © 1956 by the University of Chicago.) Edited by William L. Thomas Jr., the report details the impact that humans have had on the habitats we have occupied since antiquity, and changed forever after, almost always for the worse.

The report makes fascinating but extremely hard reading. Not hard because of any density or specialized jargon; hard because of its crystal-clear message, which we disregard at our peril. As our numbers increase, our collective wayfaring is inevitably wounding the planet that supports us, impairing its habitability for not only ourselves but for many of the species that share our space with us. Global Warming, also our doing, particularly through our power generation and motorized travels and transport, is but our latest assault on the hospitable planet that supports our every activity.

In his summary remarks on “Prospect” at the end of the report, Lewis Mumford, one of three main contributors to the structure of the symposium, includes these words of caution derived from the decline of Rome:

In the third century A.D. an objective observer might well have predicted, on the basis of the imperial public works program, an increase in the number of baths, gladiatorial arenas, garrison towns, and aqueducts. But he would have had no anticipation of the real future, which was the product of a deep subjective rejection of the whole classic way of life and so moved not merely away from it but in the opposite direction. Within three centuries the frontier garrisons were withdrawn, the Roman baths were closed, and some of the great Roman buildings were either being used as Christian churches or treated as quarries for building new structures. Can anyone who remembers this historic transformation believe that the rate of scientific and technological change must accelerate indefinitely or that this technological civilization will inevitably remain dominant and will absorb all the energies of life for its own narrow purposes—profit and power? (Volume 2, pages 1142-1143.)

Our individual actions—our wayfaring journeys—it seems, have massive collective consequences. Not only those we purposefully strive for, but also the cumulative impact of our species on the blue planet that hosts us in the vastness of space.

We don’t mean any harm, but deadly harm we surely inflict.

Now that polar ice sheets are melting, the race is on to claim the fish and resources that our carelessness is opening unto us in the Arctic. Never mind the polar bears. We are out to consume the flesh of our planet, not realizing our own folly. How cruel, how thoughtless, how ironic is that? We plead innocent, but stand guilty—each one of us—nonetheless.

No, this is not the point of my story about our active engagement with our surroundings. But it is a pointed digression to suggest that minds which evolved to survive in a Paleolithic world may not be suited to a world we have largely modified for our own comfort. Can we further evolve in time to save ourselves and our world, or are we destined to thwart our own intentions—as I so often do in my dreams?

Perhaps we can stage a recall of our advanced model of humans and have chips inserted in our brains that will program us to recognize when we have done more damage than Earth can bear. I merely wish to point out that, as currently equipped, we have outrun our warrantee and are doomed for the scrapyard, proving our mortality yet again (as if more proof were needed).

As I have written, we act to make a difference in the world and, indeed, we are proving successful beyond our wildest dreams, but not in the ways we intended.

We took a wrong turn getting out of the Neolithic, inventing roads and engines and cities and weapons, which led to assembly lines, cars, atom bombs, and the fix we are now in. We would have done better striding on the legs we were born with instead of lounging in luxury motorcars. But that’s a far less-likely ending to our story.

 

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Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

    • This is the rain that feeds
    • the reservoir that fills
    • the basin that drains
    • through the green that breeds
    • the bugs that flit
    • over the lake that holds
    • the creatures that thrive
    • with the trout that spawned
    • the fish that Jack caught.

I have watersheds on the brain this morning because I made a photo flight for Friends of Taunton Bay over the watershed a couple of days ago, and have since been working on a PowerPoint to show land use in the area. Over the past 25 years, I have come to see watersheds as one of nature’s basic organizing principles for distributing water from high ground to low around the earth.

Watersheds are water receiving, storing, and distributing systems. Powered by gravity and sunlight, they support organic growth from mountain ridges to valley wetlands and streams. Watersheds are natural basins of life. Without them, we wouldn’t be here, up on two legs, looking around—or more likely, sitting on our butts, facing into a digitized display. Either way, whether we know it or not, we are personally engaged with the watersheds that support us every day of our lives. Since I am into loops of engagement, I am into watersheds, too.

Plants are the food-producing organs of a watershed. They rise out of wetness held in the soil to reach for carbon dioxide in the air and a share of the sun’s radiant energy. Combining water, carbon, and sunlight, they make carbohydrates, the starches and sugars that feed the Earth.

Animals are parts of a watershed too, like bubbles leaping from its surface to float freely on their own, but dependent on it all the while for food, water, shelter. In a very real sense we are mobile parts of a watershed, up on two legs or all fours, flowing not by gravity but by our own locomotion, ranging throughout our green basin of soil and water, turning wet land into a homeland. I see us as extensions of such homelands, products of their damp soil.

Here’s a photographic sampling of what my home watershed looks like from 1,500 feet in the air.

Hancock ShorelandBloxton MeadowMorrison HeathOld Meadow Springer Creek Rond IslandAquifer-E. FranklinSand Pit-CemeteryDonnell PondFox PondFlooded QuarriesSteve   Pilot Randy We are all 70 percent water, so if we know where that water comes from, we don’t hesitate to watch over and protect it as the source of ourselves. That is, if we are savvy and engaged. If we’re not, then we’re apt to get a homeland as sorry and mismanaged as the ones many of us find ourselves in today. Being fully engaged with the true source of our livelihoods—not the human economy but the natural world of planet Earth—is proof that the chief reason we are conscious is to be able to fend for ourselves. If we foolishly delegate that responsibility to others, then we place our survival in their hands, whether competent or incompetent.

We are so distracted by techno-commercialism these days, by endless wars and economic troubles, and by seeking entertainment to escape from those wars and troubles, we rarely take the time to perform our most fundamental job of watching out for ourselves. Our attention captured by clamoring others who distract us, we forget to watch where we’re going. With results to be headlined in future news bulletins of media that have taken over for our own eyes and ears.

We do well to remember that everything we do, including living on this Earth, is a watershed function. And then to follow through by engaging and truly occupying the source of our good fortune.

That’s my thought for the day. As ever, I remain vigilantly, y’r friend and brother, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Life of whom or what? Life of the Quaker Institute for the Future summer seminar 2012 held at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. In particular, signs of that life on one day, Friday, June 8, 2012. I witnessed that life because I was there with my brand-new Panasonic Lumix ZS15 digital camera.

Ed Snyder’s was the only presentation on that day. His topic was: “How to move forward from the current system of material consumption to no-growth and environmental sustainability while providing equity and a decent life for all.” No, not very catchy, but the talk focused on the issues that brought everyone into that particular room every day this past week—from California, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Brunswick, Canada and, via Skype, Montreal.

Here’s what it looked like, in the order I took the photos:

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Location—College of the Atlantic campus, Bar Harbor: (back row) Steve, Jim, Leonard; (middle row) Ed, Laura, Charlie, Keith, Shelley, Phil; (front row) Barry, Gray. (Not shown) David in Montreal.

As to what was happening in those shots: Ed was giving his presentation on the demise of life on planet Earth; the rest of us were trying to keep up with him. Ed’s talk was a description of possible courses we’ve not taken so far. Those routes (in Ed’s own words) involve “nonviolence, cooperation, community, and bottom-up decision making with emphasis on quality of life rather than continuing consumption of goods.” The course we’ve been heading is a dark and dangerous one, pointing us toward reefs, shoal waters, and the end of the world as we know it.

The beauty of this day in the life of the seminar came in contemplating the ten stages of the journey Ed laid out before us in terms of projects and cooperative engagements we could undertake to get ourselves back on the less traveled route to a sustainable Earth. The task was daunting but doable. We were being offered a plan, and in that plan, stage by stage, we found hope.

This was exactly why we’d gathered in Bar Harbor, so each of us would give a presentation from a different perspective that, collectively, would lay out the sequence of navigational skills we’d need to correct our course. Ed, master helmsman that he is, was giving us the tools we’d need to do the job.

This is my fifth blog based on the seminar. One more to go. This day was too intense to put into words, so I offer pictures instead. You should have been there.

As ever, I remain y’r vigilant friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have a black camera bag slung on a shoulder strap. Everywhere I go, that strap catches on things—twigs, door knobs, stick shifts—anything that protrudes along my way.

I also have a large, shapeless winter coat whose waist and hem diameters are adjustable by pulling on three-inch loops on either side. Again, same story. Those loops are fiendish snares ready to capture anything within close range of my waist and hips as I walk through woods, say, doorways, or goods on supermarket shelves. It’s amazing how many objects in hardware store aisles are within their reach.

My camera bag and my coat are adventures waiting to happen because they are ever on guard for fun and games. I have found myself hung up countless times just trying to get out of my car while the strap on my camera bag is looped around the parking brake handle. Rowing my boat in the fall I have snagged an oar handle on one of those loops. The law of snares and hooks is: if it can happen, it will happen, sometime, somewhere. Just wait.

This reminds me of protein formation, of long, linear chains of amino acids being generated in every cell in our bodies, then folding in upon themselves by a similar law so that each chain assumes a definite shape not written in any book, but achieved nonetheless simply because if it can happen, it will happen. As it actually does happen, certain protein shapes are good for carrying out particular functions in their home cells, with the result that evolution happens simply because it can happen—sometime, somewhere. Our immune systems (unique in each case) operate on the same principle, antibodies descending on foreign bodies  (antigens) because they are built so their surfaces latch together in a specific joint configuration, enabling one to bump into the other, engage it, and then destroy it.

It is the law of happenstance that brings us to life and maintains us. The law of camera-bag straps and coat-size adjustment loops. Try to teach that in Texas schools (even dressed up as the theory of probabilistic affinities). We exist because of the possibility that, given world enough and time, we can come into being. If a genetic design can happen, it will happen, somewhere, sometime. Maybe this afternoon, maybe in ten thousand years.

On that note, I will introduce my real topic, which stems from a page of (paraphrased) notes I made about Leonard Joy’s talk at the Quaker Institute for the Future in Bar Harbor, Maine, this past Wednesday. Leonard is seeking answers to the problem of global Earth abuse. After introducing the topic of social transformation achieved through promotion of values maturation, he made a pause, looked up, and said of his own work, “So what"?” His snare was set, waiting for an answer to come by.

What he meant was that a great many groups were working to bring humanity into line with Earth’s ability to support it, along with other forms of life. But what he doesn’t find anywhere is the vision allowed by a developmental perspective. Quakers float their image of a blessed or beloved community—a kind of peaceable kingdom—but where’s the vision portraying what a sustainable Earth would look like so that we might work our way towards it today rather than fulfill an ideal proposed in simpler times? Then he adjusted his snare by asking two questions of and for himself:

1. Is there a role for the Quaker Institute for the Future in achieving a global perspective for all life on Earth?

2. Is there a group I can join to help plan this work?

By which he caught a variety of responses from his audience. Someone brought up the idea of replacing the GDP as a measure of social order with the GDH—a measure of gross domestic happiness, as has surfaced in Bhutan, and is now being considered by a UN committee. Measurement is not the issue, said someone else, we need to gauge the quality of the processes that drive people to improve their lot. This remark snared me because, as an advocate for self-understanding, I believe that if we are the cause of Earth’s deterioration as a life-support system, then the answer must lie within each of our acculturated selves as that which drives our inappropriate social behavior.

Then Leonard responded to his own questions by stating that he himself was stymied by the immensity of the issue and was primed and ready for a personal epiphany. And expanding that thought to include us all, he said that when things are not going right, we need a figurative light to illuminate our way towards an actual solution—which is where I took up writing yesterday’s reflection (No. 273).

That page of notes in my steno pad put me on a line of thought about how we make ourselves happen in the world, the topic of Consciousness: The Book (see www.myndloop.com). Which is where hooks and snares come in. We need to join forces with others who share a similar mindset so that we can support one another as a kind of affinity group working to achieve a common goal that is beyond our powers if we work separately. But how can we find those others? They must be out there somewhere, perhaps even looking our way for help. We won’t be able to do the job without them, nor they without us. How can we draw them to our cause? How can they catch our attention so that we can hook up and get on with the great work we jointly want—no, need to accomplish?

My coat and camera bag could pull off such a trick without even trying, much less being conscious. They’d do it by simply being themselves. No special skills required. So why is it so hard for earnest Earth-savers to find one another and get on with the work they’ve independently set for themselves?

We know that a lot of economists and environmentalists will show up in Rio de Janeiro on June 20th at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Gray Cox, who teaches at College of the Atlantic (COA), and is a founding member of the Quaker Institute for the Future, is going with a group of students. At the seminar yesterday he asked for suggestions for how his group might proceed.

We know that most delegates to Rio+20 will emphasize the development side of the program, pushing for development that is sustainable rather than a planet that is sustainable. So the trick would be for the COA group to snare those who are for the poor and the planet rather than for the rich and the proceeds from development.

Following up on Leonard’s quest for revelatory insight and a team to work with, and then applying those goals to Gray’s situation in order to build a global organization that will be up to the challenge, I’d say the first thing to do in Rio is set snares for kindred souls out in the open where everybody can see them. The COA students could draw attention to themselves by being highly visible and attractive: painting their faces green; waving clear, simple signs; dancing; singing; making a glad stir wherever they go so that people will take notice (short of evicting them).

Second, have a good time. People are attracted to those who are enjoying themselves, particularly when they themselves feel lost or left out.

Third, keep your pitch short and simple. No harangues, no lectures. Simple sharing will do the trick. I can read two or three bumper-stickers while waiting for the light to change; keep it that clear and direct. The more details you go into, the less sure others will be that you are for them. It’s the rhythm and poetry that counts, not the full job description.

Fourth, get the name and contact information of everyone you engage with so you can build the team you want by inter-connecting the lot of them into a network that doesn’t yet exist but that you can create. Build your own resource-rich organization, not of famous economists and environmentalists, but of savvy and energetic folks who will lay the groundwork around the world. The main thing is to make those contacts. You will have years to elaborate.

Fifth, deputize those you talk with to join your effort immediately to help find others to work with right there in Rio while it’s happening. Give them a cap, arm- or wrist-band, or badge to show they are with you. See, there’s your network already behind all those green faces.

Sixth, engage with everybody you meet. Don’t dismiss anyone because of how they look, talk, or dress. Everyone of us has a secret inner life. Show them your dream right off, and they will show you theirs. If you connect on that level, you’re halfway to building the organization you want to change the world.

Throughout this extended engagement, be yourselves, not as partisan members of a particular racial, political, or economic system, but as representatives of our common planet—as Earthlings, Earthists, Earthites, or whatever you choose to call yourselves. That is your primary identity, now and forever. Be who you are.

Etc., etc. You’re as good as my camera-bag strap and coat loops already. Even better, because you’ve kept track of whom you’ve met and know how to reach every one of them by three different means. Don’t forget your mission: you are looking for kindred souls to establish fruitful affinities with. Your hooks and snares are reassuring, not threatening. You are building life, not destroying it. So go forth, be yourself, and get to it.

How’s that as a recipe for changing the world? If Quakers can do it, so can you, whatever your persuasion. It’s just that Quakers have been at it for over 250 years, and have accomplished a lot in that time, so have a head start.

This is my fourth blog from the Quaker Institute for the Future summer seminar at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. I gave my presentation on Thinking About Thinking yesterday; now I’m all for action which, after all, is why we take time to think in the first place: to produce effective action in the world. I use thinking to find out who I am at a particular moment. That way, I don’t mix myself up with you, or blame you for not meeting my desires. I am in charge of myself; you are in charge of yourself. If we can get together, we’ll make a great team, no matter how far apart.

Thanks to Leonard Joy and Gray Cox of the Quaker Institute for the Future, and their fellow question askers, for their insightful presentations, to which this post is a grateful response. Thanks to everyone for tuning in. I’m still here as y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday at the Quaker Institute for the Future seminar in Bar Harbor, Leonard Joy gave a talk about [I paraphrase throughout] the need to encourage values development so the human community can prove itself worthy of living on Earth. The issue is the survival of the human community on the one planet in the universe that has been hospitable in the past, but is increasingly stressed beyond endurance. The issue is, do we value the gifts our home planet provides us enough to do everything we can to extend our stay, or do we cancel our welcome through unintended indifference, and accept notoriety as an also-ran among other bad-mannered and moribund species?

If things aren’t going right, Leonard said, then we need some form of jolt or epiphany to bring us to our senses so we can see the light, and then develop the wisdom to make a fitting response to that renewed understanding of just how perilous our situation has become. As he sees it, we need to come together in mutual support if we are to deal more kindly with an Earth we ourselves have degraded. What are we to do to save ourselves and the home planet from which we are inseparable?

As I listened to Leonard talk, I carried on a parallel exploration based on an image of sensitivity specks that his words sparked in my mind. I have retained the notion of sensitivity specks since 1956 when I read C.E. Kenneth Meese’s Theory of the Photographic Process. In photographic emulsions, atoms of silver and bromine combine to form small light-sensitive grains suspended in gelatine coated onto a film base. In a camera, when exposed to light through a lens, these specks or granules receive minute amounts of energy, but otherwise appear unchanged as a latent image. Until, that is, they are “developed” in a darkroom and the silver is reduced to metallic silver, appearing black against the clear gelatine that holds those minute specks in place. When unexposed areas of emulsion are removed, the silver produces a photographic negative, that is, an image whose blackness is proportionate to the amount of light it received.

While listening to Leonard speak of being open to an epiphany, my mind was picturing individual people as sensitivity specks waiting to experience the light, which when it came would not change them in any obvious way, but would render them susceptible to development when the effect of their seeing the light—their epiphany—would be revealed. That is, through his or her own experience, each person would realize that she had to adopt ways more in harmony with the Earth, but that result would not become evident until people everywhere had come to the same understanding. Then through mutual support they would recognize one another as earthling brothers and sisters—and the state would support them in developing this new understanding as a guide to the future.

Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how my mind seems to work—through metaphors transforming one way of seeing into another. People as sensitivity specks—that’s a new one. But listening to Leonard, that’s what my mind did with what I heard him talking about. For fifty-six years I have unwittingly hung onto the notion of sensitivity specks, and Leonard’s search for an epiphany brought that image out of its latency to the forefront of my mind.

But what excited me was the realization that epiphanies happen on an individual scale, while their development into a movement can happen only in an atmosphere of mutual support spread through a large segment of the population, which is what Leonard hoped would happen. Not everyone would have the same revelation, but once the word got out, enough people would see the light in a similar way that they could use that renewed understanding to achieve a more satisfying relationship with the Earth.

I am only telling you what happened inside my mind. After all, that’s where the real action takes place in each of us. We make a discovery and, Shazam!, abruptly find ourselves heading in a new direction, together, toward engagements we never thought possible. That’s how mass movements get going, by a great many people coming to the same realization at the same time. It must be in the air, or the hearts of the people—as it was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year. The powers that be will then have the option of supporting the people in their new understanding, or attempting to suppress the revolution as a disturbance of the peace (status quo).

Anyway, here I am listening to Leonard, and I am suddenly excited by the interaction between his words and my mind. We are engaged in a cooperative effort to bring about a values shift among the people around us. Yesterday I bemoaned the hardship of freeing the future from the clutches of the past; today I have hope that such a thing might actually be possible. If only we specks can become enlightened and authentic Citizens of the Earth in time to remedy the damage we have already done through not really paying attention to what we were doing so that after all these centuries, we have come to this, the situation we have brought upon ourselves—and all our children.

Thank you Leonard Joy for kindling this thought in my mind. Thank you Quaker Institute for putting me and Leonard together in the same room. Thank you Earth for nurturing us both and us all.

That’s my latest bulletin from Bar Harbor. I’ve got another in mind from the same encounter, so I want to move on to that. As ever, I remain y’r friend on Earth, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

After eight years of intense use, my first digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix boasting a Leica Vario-Elmarit lens with 12x optical zoom, up and died last week. I raided my small emergency account and called B & H to order a new one, a point and shoot Lumix ZS15 with Leica Vario-Elmar 16x optical zoom. I’m all thumbs with the new one, it’s so tiny compared to the old clunker, but I can feel it becoming an extension of my eye in one day.

Where I left off in Reflection 271 was contemplating the drag of the past on the present as traditions extended beyond their natural life expectancy. The ticking clock that need not tick was the example I led with, moving on to metopes and the long shadow cast by Alexander Hamilton across our modern national economy. Today it’s the clicking shutter of my new digital camera, a shutter that is electronic and makes no sound on its own, but does for our sake out of sentiment. The past won’t let go of us because we drag it along with us everywhere we go. Even in noiseless electronic shutters that we insist make themselves known. (I have since set mine to be silent.)

Contemplating this reluctance to let go of the known and familiar, I realized I had lived through well over half the era of film photography, an age now gasping its last breath. George Eastman came up with photosensitized sheet and roll film in 1885. In 1936 I got a bakelite roll-film camera for a boxtop and twenty-five cents, updated to a box brownie in 1940, then to a Bolsey B2 35mm camera in 1946. I graduated to a 4×5” Speed Graphic in the 1950s, then a Leica followed by various Nikons, and regressed to view cameras on tripods in the 1960s and 1970s. I went digital in 2004. Now my film cameras and lenses lie about on dusty shelves, memorials to times past. Somewhere in there I insisted on using a homemade pinhole camera made from a coffee can with a Polaroid back held on by duct tape.

All that is behind us now. These little point-and-shoot gadgets don’t require film, darkrooms, developers, or enlargers. They even focus themselves. And beep or click at you to let you know they are doing something if you want them to. I used to take my two 11×14” film holders loaded with four sheets of film into the field, giving me four exposures, so I took pains to make each one count. Now you can shoot a thousand images in hopes of getting one that’s passable. The revolution has happened almost overnight—the photography revolution, the cellphone revolution, the computer revolution, the armed drone revolution, and all the rest. I wake up in a different world today than the one I was born, raised, and schooled to enter.

No wonder we cling to the past because modern changes come upon us so suddenly. Now technology does everything we worked so hard to master only a few years ago. It’s all point and shoot, press and send, push a button and somebody is blown to bits two continents away. People, formerly so self-reliant, curious, capable, skillful, and emotional, are becoming obsolete. Their job now is to push a few buttons to keep their technological handlers happy, then to upgrade to the next tiny, slender, shiny new gadget—with its countless apps.

Such are the tools we have come to rely on in engaging other people and the natural world beyond. We can sit in a room and have anything we want come to us on demand within a second or two. If it takes any longer we grow impatient and move on to the next urge. Now everyone is a photographer, communicator, author, musician, naturalist, chef, critic, and videographer on his or her own authority. I am what I say I am more than what I have applied myself to and so learned to actually do in my life. Me now great point-and-click photographer. Have camera, will travel.

Or so it seems. I think what I’m saying is I miss the discipline of having to apply myself through concentrated attention just to get from point A to point B, or through any given day. I am a born navigator and firm believer in human consciousness, ability, and disciplined action—as opposed to human technology that makes it all so easy that very little seems challenging or worth doing any more.

Yet I am devoting this week to the research seminar sponsored by the Quaker Institute for the Future in Bar Harbor, where I hope to blog about what’s on my mind concerning getting from where I am into the future. Do I really want to go there? Or am I a creature out of the past, a quaint Neanderthal finding the times leaving me behind, a denizen of days long gone and barely imaginable.

A thought I encounter every day now is: What will happen when a solar storm sends such a transient current through the power grid that every computer-cellphone-iPad-and transportation hub is shut down for the indefinite future. No electricity to recharge our gadgets, run our businesses, distribute our food, filter our water, heat our homes. What, then, do we have to fall back on to get us through the next days and weeks? To keep our children warm and fed? To haul the supplies we need to keep going? It might not be a storm; could be a hacker, a blast from a satellite, a volcanic eruption, or asteroid streaking upon us from the sky.

No, I am not becoming Mr. Gloom and Doom. It just seems to me that time is so compressed these days that change is happening faster and faster, leaving no time to adequately prepare for a graceful transition into the world that’s coming our way.

The future will be the grand total of what everyone looking and working ahead will make it turn out to be. Powerful forces are contemplating that project even today, and have been at it for years. A bunch of smart and well-meaning Quakers holding a seminar in a room in Bar Harbor, Maine, doesn’t command the resources that those others who are interested in the same problem actually do. In my life, the future has arrived in the form that the movers and shakers have given it through long planning and strong action. George Eastman helped shape the world I grew up in, as did Eastman Kodak, General Electric, Ford Motor, and the likes of Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Change isn’t just possible, it’s a certainty. Even if we do nothing to shape or promote it, it’s going to happen—and soon. Like, this evening, or tomorrow. But whatever happens, it won’t arrive as we expect it to, or when we are ready for it. There are too many variables in the system to make trustworthy predictions much beyond saying that. The National Weather Service duly issues seven- or ten-day forecasts, and then revises them in light of what actually happens—right up till tomorrow, and even today.

I thoroughly enjoy my small part in the Quaker Institute for the Future. But that’s very different from believing I have any say at all about how the rest of my life is going to shape up. As long as I can, I’m going to stay tuned to this station in hopes of finding out what’s going to happen tomorrow, and if I‘m lucky, the day after that. Don’t worry, I’m all set to point-and-shoot my way into the future. You can count on me to do my part. Tomorrow we’ll have a better sense of whether I deserve your trust or not.

My promise to you is: I will stay fully engaged with what interests me in this life—including the future—until I am forced to lay down my head and disengage because I can’t keep up my end of the bargain one moment longer.

Till then, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I am a participant in the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) 2012 summer research seminar meeting this week at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. In the early minutes, while we were centering ourselves in silence, I became aware of the loud ticking of a clock. It was an electric wall clock driven by a motor, not by weights and a pendulum, so it had no need for a noisy escapement, but there it was, ticking away simply because clockmakers cater to the public delusion that clocks ought to tick. I thought of functionless metopes (beam ends) in stone temples dotted around ancient Greece, structures fashioned after ancient wooden temples, but having no true beam ends because they had no wooden beams. After all, how could a temple serve as a temple if it didn’t look like a temple ought to look?

Little white cars these days look like they rode off the screen of Star Wars because Star Wars set standards for what helmets and vehicles ought to look like in the future. Now that we live in the then future, what else can we expect cars to look like? I still think houses in New England ought to look like my grandfather’s house in Plainfield, Vermont—complete with woodstove in the kitchen and woodworking shop in the barn—because that house defined for me how a house is meant to look. Movies keep getting made to look as they did in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. We just can’t seem to let go of the old days when our tastes were formed once and forever. Over and over again it’s the same story—back to the future.

But it did strike me as strange to be sitting in a college seminar room equipped with a clock that affected a fake ticking sound as an echo of yesteryear while I was trying to coax my mind into engaging the future. That relentless beat nicely illustrates the problem we are up against in carrying past expectations around inside our heads as we grow more entrenched in what seems to be the future but is really an extension of times we’ve already lived through. Stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck—that was the message of the room we were assembled in to plot our way ahead. How ironic is that?

Fact is, the past is hard to shed because it’s built into the very habits, memories, and expectations we carry around with us as we go. And in our styles of reaching out to the world based on those tired expectations. Even though we realize it no longer works, we still lug it around, lug it around without realizing it because if we shed it, we’d no longer know who we were. Which is who we were once upon a fantasy time when our styles of grappling with the world were formed.

Creatures of limited imagination that we are, we know what we like, and like what we know. So much for change, so much for progress.

Later in the day, one QIF participant gave a presentation about bringing our economy up to date in workable form. He pointed out that the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to collect taxes and pay the debts for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, and, too, to borrow money on credit. It was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton who led George Washington to float the nation on monies borrowed from banks in New York, a habit that has endured for over 200 years. Hamilton, a man who would not leave politics alone, came to a bad end in his duel with Aaron Burr, as the nation is facing a dire fiscal situation today.

So now we pay interest to the financial services industry for the privilege of borrowing its money, when there is no reason whatever for doing so. That particular habit is driving us into the poorhouse, making paupers of a great many hardworking people. Yet we think it is the only way to fund the nation because it’s a habit we picked up so long ago that it’s now simply business as usual as the founding fathers had it in their day. We haven’t the imagination to change to a less suicidal way of paying our bills with interest for the privilege of doing so. Hostages to the moneyed elite, we send jobs overseas and listen to the ticking of the clock as it tracks the national debt, while that same elite avoids taxes and prospers immensely on bonuses paid with public monies. Strange business. Where is it written we must play by that scenario?

Progress is largely a matter of ridding ourselves of a beloved set of bad habits, yet we remain slaves to that tradition, as some advise us it is our moral duty to do. If we are to be free, we must come round to freeing ourselves. There is no need for a sovereign government to borrow from a moneyed elite. It’s time to free ourselves from the grand old tradition of national indebtedness. To go bankrupt for the sake of a political idea is a risky venture gone wrong. If we are to head for a brave new future, we’re not going to get there by listening to the ghostly ticking of the same old clock in our heads.

With thanks to Keith Helmuth for truly facing QIF toward the future, I remain as ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have mud on my boots. On my pants. On my jacket. On my hands. Today, I know about mud because yesterday I put in a new mooring for my rowboat in Muddy Cove. The chain on the old mooring was worn, so I had to replace it, along with all the shackles that hold it together, and the buoy I attach my outhaul system to. Now that the job is done, I can stand on the shore and pull on a rope and have my boat out on the water dutifully respond to my will.

Here’s a photo of my boat at high tide.

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And here’s Muddy Cove at low tide yesterday, with my bootprints in the mud.

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The white buoy is the new one; the muddy one farther out is the old one I couldn’t undo the shackle on.

Trying to undo rusty shackles left in the mud for five years is hard because I couldn’t see what I was trying to do. The pins had been wired so they wouldn’t loosen up on their own. Using the braille method, I tried to cut the wire, and finally twisted it off, but then couldn’t turn the pin which was rusted fast. So I left the old buoy for another day when I have a hacksaw in hand.

It’s not only that I couldn’t see what I was working on, but moving around in the mud was so hard that I really had to exert myself to do the simplest thing. Shifting one foot took both concentration and strength because in lifting my boot, I was really lifting a huge clot of mud stuck to it by the vacuum hermetically binding me to the medium I was walking in. At each step I had to twist my heel sideways to unscrew myself from the gunk underfoot.

Being both functionally blind and barely able to move, I found it a tough job. But it had to be done, so I applied my full awareness to the task and eventually got it done to the best of my abilities under the circumstances. Such is consciousness. When the going gets tough, the tough grow determined and deliberate in paying particular attention to their engagements.

The point I want to make is metaphorical, so I won’t labor over the image any more than I already have. Consciousness is achieved through great personal effort. We have to put ourselves out in order to perform meaningful actions in the world—which often prove muddier than we imagined they could be. Expressing ourselves through appropriate engagements with our surroundings takes our best effort.

Yes, there are two kinds of people, those with open minds willing to do the work, and those with closed minds who know the right answer beforehand and go through the motions of applying rote solutions to complex situations.

We achieve alignment (or syzygy) between our sensory impressions, our understanding of a situation, and the actions through which we apply ourselves in solving life’s problems—we reach that desirable state only through sustained application of our mental capacities to work toward creative solutions using every skill we possess.

The alternative is to lay rote or ideological “solutions” onto novel situations so we can take credit for trying, at least, if not succeeding in settling one issue or another. The various peoples of the book do this all the time like so many missionaries citing chapter and verse as if every problem had been solved once and for all in days long before any of us were born, or the situations we face came to the fore. But memorized answers are often wide of the mark when applied to the modern circumstances of our lives.

“Go forth and multiply” is no solution to problems raised by there being too many of us living too high on the hog for too long a time at too great a rate of consumption. Mouthing the old words leaves us where we were in the old days, when what we need is solutions to the problems of today.

Old ways of doing things tend to muddy the waters when we are faced with novel situations. Only through application of creative consciousness taking modern circumstances into account can we see clearly toward a viable future. Habitual or outdated solutions to problems in business, finance, politics, religion, education, and other fields of endeavor are often no match for problems we fail to anticipate because our attention has been diverted in the meantime.

The Arab Spring and Occupy movement of 2011 were conducted by citizens rising to full consciousness and seeing the world in a new light. Seeing problems where others saw only business as usual, things as they should be.

Supple exercise of full consciousness is the only way to keep abreast of the times as they evolve into a slew of altogether new situations. If unable to walk on water, we must develop skills, attitudes, and strengths for braving the mud when we need to.

Ironically, schools teach only solutions to old problems, those that teachers can understand because they have lived through them. Formal education teaches to the past. It is in the experiential grasp of the students themselves that new learning should be sought.

I advocate for introspection and self-reflection as guides to the future. That’s why I am writing this blog. Which is much like walking through mud, but I see no other way because firmer ground lies on the far side of our current understanding of ourselves. If we don’t face into our own minds and experience, who indeed has the credentials for leading us into the future? Who else will place the buoys we need to moor ourselves to?

Striving, always striving ahead—that’s what it takes. Nothing less than our full, conscious attention. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. I say, let’s do it. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Some time ago (December 21, 2009), Fen Montaigne wrote a piece in the New Yorker about Bill Fraser’s research on the Antarctic Peninsula. He quoted Fraser saying:

It was completely remote and absolutely wild. The rawness and beauty of this place just cannot be described. It was a place where you could still feel inconsequential. You were part of a working system that paid you no mind.

I perked up when I read that because it struck me that Fraser was really present to the place where his body was, unlike so many of us walking around with ear buds or cellphones directing our attention far away from where our bodies are.

Montaigne goes on to quote Fraser further:

It always seemed intuitive to me that the only way to really understand something is to live in it, to spend a tremendous amount of time in the field, collecting the same data year after year. . . . You develop a sense for what the rhythms should be, the flow of things. And that’s what has allowed me to pick up things that don’t make sense, the anomalies. The anomalous years really cue you in as to how this system is operating.

Those are the kinds of things that happen when you truly engage a place with all of your senses. You open yourself to that place, and slowly, slowly, it reveals its secrets to you. You begin to understand how it works as one event flows into another and another. Total immersion, that’s what it takes to understand a watershed, landscape, island, habitat, or place of special interest to any singular human being.

Being there. I don’t think it is—or even can be—taught in schools. You have to figure out how to do it on your own because you have to do it to become part of the scene and be who you are in that place. That is exactly how I learned everything I know about Taunton Bay, Maine, by being there with eyes and ears open and mouth shut. Not looking for anything in particular but keeping watch on everything that’s going on. In sun, snow, or rain; daytime or nighttime; high tide or low; drought or deluge; at all seasons under any and all conditions.

Total engagement, that’s what it takes to know a place. To answer your own questions because you make yourself into the only person qualified to do so. Passion is the driving force that leads you to keep track of whatever comes. By opening yourself to experience and not just data of one sort or another, you trust your whole being—the most finely tuned instrument you have—to show you the way. If you can truly give of yourself, then your surroundings will eventually provide the understanding you need to be yourself in that place.

That is, you learn biology, say, by being a biologist—someone not only interested in how living systems work, but committed to finding out through employing your muscles and bodily senses toward that end. By engaging whatever systems both fascinate and challenge you where you are.

Yes, you can learn biology from books, videos, classes, and experienced biologists. But to know any subject inside-out, you have to engage it with your own actions and senses so it becomes your personal understanding and not something someone else relayed to you from their experience, not yours. Each of us being unique as she is, we will all find something in a discipline that attracts our attention in particular. It is that special interest that leads us to discoveries others will never make because they lead other lives driven by interests of their own. To contribute to world understanding, we must be fully ourselves by grasping the engagements we are compelled to experience for ourselves, and then share what we find.

Henry Thoreau, for instance, wrote in his journal on November 21, 1850:

I saw Fair Haven Pond with its island, and meadow between the island and the shore, and a strip of perfectly still and smooth water in the lee of the island, and two hawks, fish hawks perhaps, sailing over it. I did not see how it could be improved.

He continues:

Yet I do not see what these things can be. I begin to see such an object when I cease to understand it and see that I did not realize or appreciate it before, but I get no further than this. How adapted these forms and colors to my eye! A meadow and an island! What are these things?

That’s what it’s like to be truly engaged with your surroundings. Boundaries get fuzzy and you can’t tell what’s your contribution and what belongs to your sensory environment. The paragraph ends:

Yet the hawks and the ducks keep so aloof! and Nature is so reserved! I am made to love the pond and the meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water.

There he stands, reaching out with love for the scene before him, the scene reaching in to him. Not in understanding, but with an undeniably attractive force that hooks him and holds him fast. That’s what being there is all about—engaging your surroundings so you feel their force inside you, and at the same time know they are separate from your own being.

In this example, Thoreau learned more about himself than about the hawks and the ducks. But in sensing that he and they were coequals, he came to see them in a new light, and himself in a new light. That is true learning because the change is in the seer who accommodates to his personal experience, his grasp of his world now larger than before.

May Sarton’s poem “Now I Become Myself” presents somewhat the same message.

Now I become myself. It’s taken

Time, many years and places;

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces,

Run madly, as if Time were there,

Terribly old, crying a warning,

“Hurry, you will be dead before—”

She considers Time’s possible warnings, then continues:

Now to stand still, to be here,

Feel my own weight and density!

/ . . . /

Now there is time and Time is young.

O, in this single hour I live

All of myself and do not move.

I, the pursued, who madly ran,

Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun.

It’s that ability to stand still amid the onrush of worldly events that is a sure sign of being there with the ability to take it all in from the center of your being. That is precisely when questions arise about the true nature of things, and answer are felt as soon as the issue is raised. Those answers turn into a series of further questions, and true learning begins.

Being there gives us purchase on the immensity of our ignorance, which is how each of us makes his or her way into the future.

I will leave it at that for now. Y’rs truly, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Everyone is fascinated, captivated, enthralled by the short, happy life of the Titanic, and the story of its maiden (and only) voyage that ended 100 years ago yesterday. Yes, this is the story of great myths, literature, drama. And underneath such symbolic treatments, it is the story of how we are called to consciousness by emergency situations.

Think of Russian sailors trapped in the hull of a sunken nuclear submarine. Think of the Apollo 13 astronauts. Think of coal miners sealed deep underground. Think of bungee jumpers, gamblers, tightrope walkers, and entrepreneurs who profit by taking personal risks. Even pornography horrifies-fascinates us in going beyond anything we can conceive of in our own erotic relationships.

By imaginatively putting ourselves in situations others have faced, we stand to learn how to conduct ourselves when our turn comes to meet the challenge of severe adversity. This is not an effort in logical planning, it is wholly intuitive in expanding our awareness of fight-or-flight opportunities. The wise take note, the careless gape and pass on. In any event, none of us can anticipate what will bring us down in the end.

From my point of view, the sinking of the Titanic illustrates the end of the supposed world order as we know it. We feel compelled to search for some survival advantage to take from the experience of others engaged in such an event. Why else are we given a capacity for consciousness other than to learn such lessons, so to apply them to our own advantage when the time comes?

What is it that arouses us in times of disaster but the disparity or discord between what we desire and what actually happens? It is in that gap that we come to consciousness to grapple with the difference between the best of times and the worst of times. We engage, that is, for the deepest of values—to survive under life-changing situations.

And in everyday life, we are aroused precisely by those extreme situations that are worse than bad or else better than good—putting us beyond the limits of our personal experience that we may transcend our own limitations and thrive under circumstances we have never known or imagined up till now.

In personal consciousness, each of us has a means for transcending our historical life experience in order to survive under the altered circumstances the future will inevitably present to us. We can either bull our way through on the basis of what we already know or believe—or we can incorporate new learning into our repertory of understanding, and so grow larger and more experienced with a greater probability of surviving in the face of unknown challenges ahead.

The sinking of the Titanic is, for each of us, a warning of what may lie before us. Intuition draws us to that incident so that we may learn from it how to cope with similar disasters in which we may be personally involved. Its fascination is not with the fate of those others, whether on the bridge or in first-class or steerage, but with our own personal fate should we ever collide with an iceberg in the North Atlantic—or the personal equivalent of such a disaster when we foolishly place our trust in the unsinkability of our first-person, singular and most precious self.

An alternative to developing such an emergency strategy is to attempt to forestall the future by building fortifications around our respective castles or installing backyard bomb shelters, accruing an arsenal of weapons, or hoarding vast stores of wealth instead of building life-enhancing and life-saving skills we can take with us wherever we go. Aleric took Rome because someone left the back gate open, rendering the city’s massive walls a monument to pride and forlorn hope.

In CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, I offer the image of a helmsman steering his way through fog “by the deviance of his compass needle from his charted course. His mindfulness of that error allows him to turn the wheel to port or starboard to counter the error at each moment as he goes. In that simple image I discover the rise of William James’ stream of consciousness, what others see as successive instants of working memory, and I see as my ongoing loop of conscious engagement” (p. 129).

Consciousness is given us as such a helmsman to guide us in response to the errors we make in judging where we are in relation to where we want to be. The fate of the Titanic illustrates the folly of deliberately cruising through a field of icebergs in the North Atlantic, relying wholly on faith in our carrier’s claim to being “unsinkable,” wagering good money on that claim. It is when we surrender sound conscious judgment to others that we become unduly vulnerable ourselves. That is the Titanic’s message to generations ever after that fatal event.

Every day is Celebrate Personal Consciousness Day that we may make good use of gifts we otherwise may take for granted—with dire results.

Check out the Website I made for my book, myndloop.com, buy the book at Lulu.com, read it, and do what you can to live a long life in full awareness of your inner workings and the fixes you can get into.

Thanks for stopping by. Y’rs truly, –Steve