The Sacred Earth Network Masthead

The Sacred Earth Network Newsletter - Spring 97

Issue #11

INDEX
ETP Highlights - 1996
Focus on Eurasian Conservation
The "Next Steps" Project
The Snow Leopard Project is Born
Citizen Action Stopped Gold Mine
First Environmental E-mail Station Established in Chukotka
Deep Ecology Page, Radical Confidence: Opening the Heart to the Living Earth - an interview

"I stand on the crunchy snow, breathing the sharp night air, listening, and watching the brilliant dance of the stars in the deep black above. For thousands of years this drum has beat, and the voices of the people have sounded together in the night. The dance has gone on.

How much longer will it continue? The old ways are threatened, the people divided. Forces of destruction, of greed and domination, are in subtle control of the governments and institutions of the world beyond. It is fear, not love, that makes this world go round today.

But the drum sounds in the hearts of all good people everywhere. The song is hope, harmony, beauty, healing, creativity. We must carry it to the world. We must bring people back to the circle. We need each other. Above, the stars continue the ancient round dance."

-Manitonquat (Native American healer living in New England)

From the Editor:

This is the first appearance of the SEN Newsletter since last spring. You may have been wondering where we disappeared to! In the intervening year, a great many wonderful things have happened in and around SEN. We have been very busy singing "the song of hope and harmony," in our ongoing commitment to healing the divisions between the Earth and her peoples. Now, from the depths of a New England winter, we are taking a breather to let you know what we have been up to since we last spoke.

1996 was a real watershed year for the Sacred Earth Network. Our biggest cooperative initiative, the Environmental Telecommunications Project, has grown by leaps and bounds - so much so, that we are in the process of establishing SEN's presence in Moscow as an independent organization!

For the first time, we were able to host a gathering in the U.S. of several of our advisors from Eurasia's environmental movement - a meeting that was informative and helpful in steering our thinking as we head into the much-vaunted next millennium. We also sponsored several seminars in Eurasia which were exciting and well-attended. We have also moved forward on a Snow Leopard Conservation project.

As SEN continues to expand and redefine its work, the mission remains the same: to make an impact through communication and cooperation, changing the world one heart at a time.


ETP Highlights - 1996

Back in 1989, the ETP began as a technical support project to help Eurasian environmental groups set up and maintain electronic communication networks, to enable them to communicate more quickly and efficiently on urgent environmental issues.

As time has gone on, SEN has developed an equal emphasis on organizational support within the Eurasian environmental movement - helping NGOs to establish collaborative partnerships to achieve their common goals. This aspect of the ETP focuses on non-technical infrastructural support: building coalitions, fostering leadership, fundraising, and establishing multi-sectored, cross-disciplinary partnerships in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition.

The project continues to grow! In order to distribute our energy and resources fairly and effectively across the borders of Eurasia, SEN sought the counsel of our closest colleagues in the Eurasian environmental movement. On their suggestion, SEN moved in the direction of streamlining support along regional and thematic lines. This approach brings together activists from diverse geographic and professional backgrounds to plan, and act upon, the movement's sustainable future. By focusing on a specific region or thematic issue, SEN can maximize the impact of its technical and organizational assistance

We have identified by invitation 6 regions and 4 themes for 1997/98. With full funding, we can provide intensive ETP support to the regions and themes mentioned below. Groups seeking assistance that fall outside these boundaries will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The regions are:

 

· Krasnodar region

· Kamchatka SouthCentral Siberia

· Southern Caucasus

· Western Tien Shan

· The Baltics ( See map)

The themes are:

· biodiversity protection (conservation)

· environmental law

· radioactive & toxics contamination

· alternative energy.

That's the very general outline of where we are headed.

Now for some details of what SEN has been up to in the last 15 months!

 

ETP Seminars in 1996

Alternative Energy

One of the themes for this year was increasing awareness on alternative energy and sustainable living systems across Eurasia. On July 12-14, SEN held a seminar in Nakhabino (a suburb of Moscow) for environmental activists who concentrate on alternative energy and sustainable living issues. The seminar was run in cooperation with the Golubka Center for Experiential Education, ECOLOGIA, and the Center for Information and Coordination of the Socio-Ecological Union (SEU-CCI) and was aimed at promoting increased communication and cooperation on alternative energy work in Eurasia. The seminar was attended by activists from Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Karakalpakistan (Uzbekistan), Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine. Three of the seminar participants are now working together to create demonstration sites and educational programs on energy-efficient ecological housing, in Novosibirsk (Russia), Feodossia (Ukraine), and Minsk (Belarus).

Biodiversity Issues

In November, Nakhabino was the setting for another SEN seminar on improving communication and cooperation -this time for environmental activists concentrating on biodiversity protection issues. This gathering was sponsored by the Turner Foundation, and Representatives of Golubka, the Biodiversity Conservation Center, and SEU-CCI facilitated various portions of the seminar along with SEN staff. Seminar participants - from Crimea, Georgia, Ukraine, and several parts of Russia - exchanged information on funding sources, approaches to information management and proposed future cooperative work. Upon conclusion of the seminar, working groups agreed to formulate a project proposal for increasing awareness on protected territories and biodiversity protection success stories across Eurasia. Funding permitting, a video to propel this work is planned.

The Baltics

In cooperation with the Lake Peipsi Project, SEN brought together thirteen representatives of environmental organizations of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia. They met in Tartu, Estonia on November 16 to discuss the establishment of the Baltic Environmental Cooperation Initiative. Participants brainstormed on mechanisms for more effective and extensive information exchange on both environmental issues and existing resources for groups in the region. As a result of the meeting the group developed a plan for a jointly implemented project on improved communication among the region's environmental and other NGOs. The resulting project proposal is currently being reviewed by three funding sources.


Focus on: Eurasian Conservation

According to Russian Conservation News, the most thorough journal publicizing compelling issues and great achievements of conservation in northern Eurasia, SEN's emphasis on protecting biodiversity is as urgent and timely as ever. RCN's main editors, Mikhail Blinnikov <blinn@oregon.uoregon.edu> and Margaret Williams <rcn@igc.org> , paint a colorful portrait of the majestic beauty and priceless natural treasures of this wilderness region, which includes the Russian Far East, Kamchatka, and Lake Baikal - the world's largest and deepest lake, over one mile deep, 395 miles long, and holding one fifth of the planet's supply of liquid fresh water!

Mikhail and Margaret ask: "Did you know that 10,000 grizzlies still roam wild on the Kamchatka Peninsula? That 10% of the non-human population of Northern Eurasia are threatened or endangered species, and of these, many are found no where else in the world? The most famous inhabitant of this region is the Siberian Tiger. He is joined by 359 other mammal species, 756 species of birds, 200 types of amphibians and reptiles - not to mention over 22,000 species of vascular plants and over 1,000 types of mosses!"

And they go on to say: "Today, the vast pristine ecosystems of this region offer a unique, and possibly the last chance to protect wild nature on a scale large enough to allow for nature to fluctuate and evolve. Unlike most of the wilderness areas in the USA, where only .001 percent of the tall grass prairies remain, large expanses of wilderness still exist in Russia and northern Eurasia. In many countries of the world, natural ecosystems are too fragmented to support viable populations of large mammals. But the wild lands of northern Eurasia have an unmatched potential to maintain viable populations of hundreds of species that are highly sensitive to human disturbance."

It is not too late to ensure that the mistakes of the Western over-development will not be repeated in northern Eurasia, and to steer the wheel of progress towards a more sustainable future for this vast bioregion. Towards this effort, SEN's ETP has established e-mail stations to help groups communicate with each other across national boundaries. New stations have been set up for the following groups:

The Kronotskiy Nature Reserve covers over one million hectares of forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers and aquatic ecosystems on the east coast of Kamchatka. The Reserve contains unique areas such as the Valley of the Geysers and South Kamchatka state park. Nature reserve staff are developing an improved system of protected territories on Kamchatka; they are currently attempting to establish a nature reserve along three miles of coastal Sea Lion habitat. They also run environmental monitoring excursions in the Valley of the Geysers and continually conduct applied ecological research. Contact: Vladimir Zykov <zapoved@elrus.kamchatka.su

The Siberian Center for Biodiversity is conducting extensive research and ecological monitoring in central Siberian protected territories. The group is actively working with the regional nature reserves and the "Friends of Siberian Forests" to promote improved nature protection. Leader Vera Vlasenko has inventoried and mapped plant species in the Sayano-Shushensk Nature Reserve, and group members have been monitoring the state of the Krasnoyarsk Krai forests for the last 15 years. Contact: Vera Vlasenko <vera@biodiv.krasnoyarsk.su>

Staff members at the Kerzhensk Nature Reserve focus on biodiversity protection, raising environmental awareness, and ecological research, studying and publishing on such diverse topics as wetlands ecosystems, forest restoration and rare and endangered animal species. They are organizing a nature museum and visitor's center at the reserve and hold environmental education programs at local middle schools. Contact: Nikolai Bayanov <kerzh@glas.apc.org>

Elena Shatkovskaya and the other staff of Kenozero National Park <root@kenozero.nordlink.ru> in the Russian Northwest (near Arkhangelsk) concentrate on preserving water quality and monitoring aquatic organism populations in protected areas of the Lekhshmozera Lakes, and the Park's Ecocenter holds summer environmental education camps for high school students. The organizations are particularly sensitive to protecting traditional indigenous economy and culture, and they promote eco-tourism to the region.

The Baituganskiy Biostation in the mid-Volga region, aims to protect the natural ecosystems in the region. They conduct inventories of the plant and animal populations and work to protect them by creating protected territories and initiating legislative actions on the local level. They also organize ecological camps for children and adults. Contact <biostat@ievb.tlt.ru>

Ugra National Park, Vorotyinsk, Russia - The landscape and rivers of the Ugra watershed are some of the cleanest in Central Russia and include several specified areas of valued natural, historical and cultural importance. Valery Novikov and his colleagues are determined to establish a national park covering the territory. They have conducted extensive ecological monitoring and research, organized frequent environmental education and awareness programs, promote eco-tourism in the area, and lobbied local, regional and national authorities. Their ground-breaking work continues to provide an important example on citizen involvement in public policy to others in their field. Contact: Valery Novikov <ugranp@glas.apc.org>

Noah's Ark Center for the Recovery of Endangered Species (NACRES), one of the first and most effective NGOs to be established in Georgia, has a twofold mission: the protection of endangered species and their careful re-introduction to the wild, and public awareness of the need for participatory activism. Through the production of videos, publications, and through direct advocacy, NACRES has been active in influencing governmental policy in favor of the protection of the region's biodiversity. Contact: Natia Kopaliani <natia@nacres.ge>

Naurzum members, working in Kostenay Region of north-central Kazahkstan, have been strengthening regional environmental protection laws and increasing public awareness to preserve the Naurzum State Nature Reserve. Bragina and her colleagues have managed to stop exploitation of grasslands and lakes on the reserve. They are currently implementing a program to protect a rare tulip species, and they organize clean-up and maintenance for local springs and hold tree planting events. The group serves as an information resource center, publishing information on the reserve and ecology of the region. Contact: Tatyana Bragina <naurzum@glas.apc.org>

Atshi is creating protected territories in the North West Caucasus and defending existing zapovedniks through public outreach, direct action, and information distribution. Contact: Tatyana L'vova <katshy@glas.apc.org>

Khaoma EcoCenter offers e-mail access to three groups in this remote town near the Syunt-Khasardagski Nature Reserve, Turkemenistan : "Mandragora," "Chinar," and "Nar." Mandragora publishes ecology textbooks for teachers and publicizes environmental issues in the local press. Chinar works with teachers and school students in creating ecological videos, and Nar's projects are aimed at protecting rare and endangered plant species. Contact: Nikolai Andreev <parkhay@cat.glasnet.ru>

The Kyiv Ecological-Cultural Center conducts research on potential protected territories in Ukraine and applies for establishing new nature reserves. Members also organize seminars for biology teachers, nature reserve staff and journalists on biodiversity conservation Contact: Vladimir Boreiko <vladimir@kekz.freenet.viaduk.net>

For a complete list of 1996 equipment recipients and information about work completed in Georgia and Turkemenistan please send us a SASE or check out our web site <http://www.sacredearthnetwork.org/>


The "Next Steps" Project

In early December, 1996, six environmental activists from Eurasia came to Petersham to participate in a three-week-long event funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding, focusing on fundraising, strategic planning, and interdisciplinary dialogue. Amazing as it may seem, this was the first time that all the Eurasian members of SEN's Advisory Board -from Moscow, St-Petersburg and Magadan in Russia, Tbilisi in Georgia, and Dashkhovuz in Turkmenistan - had met together in the US. The purpose of the gathering was to explore useful strategies for fostering the sustainability of environmental NGOs in Eurasia .

The meeting began with a 3-day orientation on the grounds of the Earthlands ecological community in Petersham, allowing the whole group to participate in an ongoing experiment in sustainable living and evaluate this model in practice. The orientation was a two-way mirror, however. The staff of SEN-USA took advantage of the presence of our Eurasian colleagues to revise our organizational goals and plans for the next 5 years. A very successful period (from 1991 to 1996) has seen the development of a large communications and organizational infrastructure through the help of the ETP. We have assisted in the construction of an efficient and powerful vehicle for ecological action. Where do we want it to take us now?

This meeting was a terrific way to hear this question answered from within the movement itself ( with the time to really listen!), enabling us to lay the strategic groundwork for coming years in a spirit of true partnership. Several specific questions focused our discussion:

*What is the present character of the Eurasian environmental movement and where does it appear to be headed?

*How can the momentum established over the last 6 years best be maintained?

*Given the likelihood of significant decreases in US assistance in the next several years, where can assistance money be applied most effectively?

*What areas require the most immediate attention?

*What do Eurasian environmentalists need to know about the US assistance community in order to develop reasonable expectations?

*What does the US assistance community want and need to know about the state of the environmental movement in Eurasia?

Since it is easier to explore questions like these in a small, informal group, 12 meetings were held over the course of three weeks, with 60 US participants representing governmental agencies, private foundations, and the scientific community directly involved in Eurasian environmental assistance.

In the second stage of the project, the Eurasians visited foundations on the East Coast, in order to broaden the existing donor base for environmental projects in Eurasia. Targeted meetings brought U.S. funders face to face with new and exciting possibilities of projects now underway in Eurasia, and so publicized the growth of Eurasian environmentalism. These donors exhibited a sophisticated level of understanding and most seemed eager to begin or maintain their support. The "Next Steps" Project culminated in a briefing with representatives of governmental agencies and Washington D.C.-based foundations, on December 17.

Since 1980, Natasha Proskurina <main@pilc.magadan.su> has been dedicated to environmental protection, primarily in the Russian Far East. About the "Next Steps" meeting, Natasha writes:

"I remember my first trip to US - everything was new, everything was unusual, I felt like Alice in Wonderland! It was wonderful and it was ... pretty unproductive in terms of work. The main outcome of that first trip was the introduction into the culture and learning something of the language. But the more I traveled to US, the more I was able to concentrate on the particular goals of my trips. Wonderland became the Real-land. I still appreciate seeing new places (Earthlands is unforgettable!) and getting new cultural experiences (the Dondur Temple in the Metropolitan Museum is one of the very few devastating spiritual impressions I have ever had in my life).

But this time was so efficient! Our discussions painted for me a picture of what was going on in the countries of the FSU as a whole, in terms of the environmental movement. Our planning sessions helped me to understand my own role in the movement and in NGO development. In fact, I feel as if I have clarified my place in the Universe!

The meetings with Terry Hunt, Donald Weeden, Richard Lanier and Wade Greene were no ordinary fundraising events. We, the Eurasian advisors, shared our experience in conducting cooperative projects and our lessons of the successes and challenges involved in international cooperation. The funders introduced us to strategies employed by the foundation community in funding international projects. Knowledgeable experts in funding and fundraising, they gave us some very useful advice"

Andrei Zatoka <zatoka@glasnet.ru>, a SEN advisor as well as herpetologist, musician, computer technician, author, and deputy chairman of the Ecology Club of Dashkhovuz, Turkmenistan commented "One of my most pleasant memories is of participating in the meeting of ecological activists in New York. We were among people with a common spirit and were glad that in this 'megapolis,' the symbol of the consumer world, there are people able to unselfishly volunteer for the protection of nature and humanity."

Zaal Kikvidze <zaal@gaia.org.ge> has been the driving force behind the establishment of one of Georgia's most innovative NGOs. "Gaia" was organized in 1994 to introduce environmental education into the curriculum of Georgia's public schools. He writes, "I think I picked up a great many very valuable ideas which will definitely help my organization to elaborate an effective strategy for the future. Through the "Next Steps Project" we renewed our belief in the possibility of a new, environmentally-based civilization"

SEN's goal is to foster the development and growth of this civilization, on every level, in every way we can. During this colloquium, SEN's Eurasian and American advisors became intimately acquainted with one another and unanimously came to the conclusion that building cooperation is the most important overall goal of the current stage of environmental movement. We at SEN-USA share Natasha's hope that "this first occasion of our teamwork will not be the last! I believe that if we work together, we will be more successful and more efficient." Our thanks to the Trust for Mutual Understanding for making the "Next Steps Project" possible, and to our Eurasian colleagues for making it such a rich learning experience for all!

By Tamara Semyonova <stam@glasnet.ru> [who provided invaluable assistance to this project! Ed.]


The Snow Leopard Project is Born

Snow leopards recently became a part of the SEN family, with the birth of the Eurasian Snow Leopard Project (ESLP). The overall goal of the ESLP is to preserve snow leopards and their habitat in Eurasia through public education, fundraising and partnerships between Eurasian and Western NGOs.

One of the least studied large predators in the world, the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) ranges from the mountainous regions of the Altai and Sayan of Russia through Central Asia, Mongolia, China and India. (Range is shown shaded in black in map to the right - question mark is unknown possible range) Estimates now put the total population of snow leopards in the former Soviet Union at 800 to 1200 at best. Overall, only about 5% of their geographic range is protected in Siberia and Central Asia. Due to generally low fertility, high rates of poaching, decline of prey species, and habitat destruction, the snow leopard has become seriously threatened. It is now listed in the Red Data Book of Russia and Central Asia.

The striking appearance of this cat, with its thick beautiful fur and exceptionally long tail, has made it an object of capture for zoos and killing for pelts. Some zoos will pay up to $5,000 for a cub, and a snow leopard pelt can be worth as much as $3,000. With profits like this to be made, indiscriminate killing and trapping persists. Kirghizia is the world leader in providing snow leopards for zoos, and in the past few years populations here have declined by 30%.

Bill Pfeiffer<sacredearthnetwork.org> and I travelled to Kirghizia in August to meet with local snow leopard activists and to investigate different areas of snow leopard habitat. There we met with Oleg and Irina Loginov, the directors of IRBIS, the 'Snow Leopard Lover's Club' <IRBIS@kbcenter.freenet. bishkek.su>. IRBIS is the first NGO in the former Soviet Union solely dedicated to the preservation of snow leopards. Their motto is, "Together we can do more." IRBIS distributes a quarterly bulletin to educate people about snow leopards and their need for protection. The ESLP has provided IRBIS with a laptop computer as well as financial assistance to continue their efforts.

Our expedition led us into Aksu Zakaznik in the north-central portion of Kirghizia. We were shepherded by the single park ranger who oversees the entire 49,000-hectare area for the princely wage of $20 per month. We stumbled upon the remains of an ibex killed by a leopard, and also saw three poachers in the three days we were at Aksu. We deduced that they were after marmots or ibex, both of which are staples of the snow leopard diet, and neither of which were in season for hunting. Our ranger showed us the bullet scars on his back from a close brush with poachers.

From Aksu we headed east toward Lake Issyk-Kul, one of the world's largest, deepest and least known glacial lakes, whose crystal-clear waters have made it the national treasure of Kirghizia. In addition to the high peaks, dry slopes and raging river, 40-foot tall fir trees grew in this valley. Here, we saw a graphic example of the effects of unregulated development and tourism. The pressures of forestry, mining and grazing weighed heavy on the land. Sheep and horse trails crisscrossed the dry slopes, and a new "improved" road bisected the valley leading to the fifth largest gold mine in the world. The road now allows busloads of tourists to visit a spectacular waterfall cascading from the steep cliffs. We spoke with local "cowboys," who recalled seeing snow leopards but only in the more remote regions. We also met with the grandfather of Kirgizia's environmental movement, Dr. Emil Shukurov <emil@aleyne.bishkek.su>, who is involved in a pilot project in the Lake Issyk-kul bioregion, combining research on snow leopard population dynamics, strategies for their protection in and around zakazniks (semi-protected areas), and public education. He received a computer from SEN's Central Asian " Eco-Link" project earlier in the year

The last leg of our expedition brought us into a drainage of the Karabalta River, not far from Sosnovka, home of the Loginovs. This valley has the unfortunate reputation of being the place in Kirghizia where the most snow leopards have been captured for zoos. It is also where a great deal of Ibex hunting goes on, legally and illegally.

The entire trip gave us an inside view into the snow leopard situation in Eurasia. It is obvious that the small number and insufficiently large area of protected territories are inadequate for long-term species protection. Poaching is rampant and without proper salaries and incentives for rangers to patrol these areas, it will continue. A massive public education campaign is essential to aid in anti-poaching efforts, and to reduce the market value of snow leopard pelts as well as stop the needless capturing for zoos.

Since returning from Central Asia, the ESLP, with the help of the Weeden Foundation, has provided financial support to Eugene Koshkarev <kbraden@u.wash ington.edu>, a senior researcher at the Institute of Biology at Irkutsk University. He has done extensive research on snow leopards in Kirghizia and is now investigating the northeastern extent of snow leopard range.

The ESLP is currently "on the road" throughout New England to spread the word and raise money to support those involved with snow leopard preservation. "Together we can do more." We must do more. The future of this magnificent cat is truly in the hands of the people.

- Cathy Pedevillano <cathyped@igc.org>


Citizen Action Stops Gold Mine Ventures

In a letter e-mailed to the New York Times on August 17, 1996, one of our Russian colleagues pointed out the need for global, rather than parochial environmental activism to protect what are in fact the resources not of one nation, but of our common Earth.

The writer, Olga Chernyagina <fund@defense.kamchatka.su> personifies the global approach to environmental action. Olga is the chairperson of the Kamchatka Defense Fund and received a modem from the ETP in 1995. Her letter was part of a broader campaign that led to the adoption of stricter mining regulations in the region. We reprint the letter in the hopes of inspiring others to take actions like hers:

To the Editor:

Congratulations to President Clinton and environmental groups for their successful efforts to prevent gold mining next to Yellowstone National Park. However, I was distressed to see a related article describing how American companies want to mine gold in other countries in order to avoid strong environmental laws (news article, Aug. 13).

American and Canadian companies are looking to mine gold here on the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian Far East, an area as ecologically pristine and valuable as Yellowstone. These companies should not come here to avoid a long and detailed permitting process and strict environmental regulations.

Along with regional government agencies, we plan to hold these companies to standards no less stringent than those found in the U.S. And we want to insure that the U.S. and other countries do not provide financing for these companies unless they meet environmental standards.

The United States is right to protect Yellowstone from gold mining. We must also protect Kamchatka.

-Olga Chernyagina, Fund for the Defense of Kamchatka, Petropavlovsk,

Russia.


First Environmental E-mail Station in

Chukotka (Alaska's neighbor) is On-Line!

From: anadyr@nmc.rospac.ru

Date: Thu, 20 Mar 1997

To: sen@glas.apc.org

Dear and Favorite "SEN-ators"!

Thanks to you, environmentalists of Chukotka received the remarkable possibility to communicate with all our acquaintainces and as of yet unknown friends and like-minded people. Our group "Kairi" promises to send out electronic letters about our work and problems. Most important, we are delighted that we now can plunge into the stream of living information that was until today inaccessable. This is great! Thank you! Thank you!

Gennady Smirnov, the Kairi Club

(Anadyr, Chukotka, Russian Far East)

 


DEEP ECOLOGY PAGE

Radical Confidence: Opening the Heart to the Living Earth

Interview with James Thornton

Environmental activism is the tip of the iceberg of deep ecology: we reveal what we believe by what we do. SEN's goal is to help to heal humankind's relationship with the Earth. We were captivated by the following interview, which points out one man's vision of this same goal. Until 1994, James Thornton was a litigator for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), winning over 100 federal cases. In 1996 he founded Positive Futures, a program which teaches wisdom practices to policy-makers, social activists, and future leaders. In this interview, James speaks of the need to heal our relationship with the earth by changing the world one mind at a time, by becoming confident and positive - radically confident - so that we make our minds available to long-term solutions. The original interview was conducted by Kurt de Boer <kurtlauren@earthlight.org>, editor of Earthlight magazine, (1558 Mercy St., Mountain View, CA 94041, (415) 960-1767, www.earthlight.org), and the following excerpts are reprinted with permission.

Kurt de Boer: Could you speak a little about the process of founding Positive Futures?

James Thornton: The Dalai Lama taught me that much of the work that I had done as an environmentalist was based on a kind of righteous anger - what any person feels when they look at what our society is doing to the Earth. He said ,"You must become confident and positive. Out of angry mind, long-term solutions can never come. You must get over your own anger. Achieve a confident and positive mind. Then help others to reach that place."

Through my own experience, and through a six-month survey of other environmentalists, I realized that anger is a common reaction that leads to social action - but a source of motivation that leaves little room for positive vision, for hope. Social action projects often get caught in the realm of politics, which does not allow for the changes in consciousness that are needed for true change to occur. I invited others to do what I had done; to try some kind of meditation or contemplative process to get beyond the anger and begin to experiment with a new consciousness in their life and practice.

KdB: Is there a way in which Buddhist practice and other contemplative practices can contribute toward healing the alienation that has divided us from the Earth, our thoughts from our bodies, and us from other species?

JT: My own sense is that some kind of contemplative practice - and it can be from a Christian tradition, a Hindu tradition, a Jewish tradition, or Buddhist tradition - is absolutely required. Simply being in the space of quiet mind in a natural setting and allowing the heart to speak allows a surprisingly rapid experience of intimacy with the Earth of the kind that I actually thought took years of meditation and contemplative practice to achieve. Let me give you an example. Last summer I was teaching a group of graduate students with the Harvard Center for Psychology and Social Change. What we were doing there was using the conjunction of analytic and contemplative modes. We were studying Gaia theory, chaos theory, meditating, and having group council process - all very deep things. Combined, what it did was to give people a sense that the analytic and contemplative were both aspects of a single experience of consciousness, not divorced or alienated from each other, and that the mind and the soul could speak the same language.

On the fourth day, we had people spend some time in nature. This was a group of people who had never experienced any kind of contemplative work before. The instruction was to sit with one square foot of earth and simply be with it for an hour. The hope was that by paying total awareness to one square foot of earth you're experiencing in the natural world what you do contemplatively when you give total awareness to the inner world, - the "inscape."

One woman came back and told a story of how she had sat with her square foot of earth which was full of grass and it took twenty minutes for her to quiet down to the point where she notices a small caterpillar that she had in fact been looking at for twenty minutes. She remembered the instructions that if a question was coming up from your heart, to simply allow it to come and in fact to direct it to the creature that you were sitting with. Out of her heart rose the question for the caterpillar: "will you teach me about metamorphosis?"

The caterpillar responded rather like a tough old Zen master: "Why should I teach you about metamorphosis?" She said, "because you will be going through complete metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly - who better to teach me about it?" He said, "you don't seem to understand - most of us don't make it to butterflies. Either we don't find the right food plants and die or we're eaten by predators. There no guarantee at all that I'll become a butterfly. On the other hand, you, as a human being, experience metamorphosis all the time. If you want to know about metamorphosis, study yourself."

My own sense is that we are on a cusp of human evolutionary history. Looking at our own experience as humans on the Earth in the last, say, fifty years, we've gone from being a species with generally localized impact to a species that has very significant global impact. We've become the dominant species, we control much of the biomass of the Earth, and are beginning to change the climate, the atmosphere, and so on in a significant way. But we haven't had a shift in consciousness consonant with our shift in status as a species. My sense of how to bring about that shift is a simple and humble one - if enough people are willing to experiment and experience a shift in consciousness, then Earth itself, Gaia itself, as the superorganism that is the living Earth of which we are a part, can push on our consciousness, accelerate the process and a global shift in consciousness becomes imaginable.

KdB: So often I hear people ask "what can I do?" They feel the despair. They want to take action, and very often that notion of action is to "get out there and do something," - protest, resist - which is certainly important, too. But it seems that contemplative practice is also a kind of action. It's not simply a passive thing. It's taking action of a sort, isn't it?

JT: It's certainly taking action. In fact, I think to meditate in our culture is a radical act. To reflect in this way is a radical act. And when you're doing it for the purpose of helping the world, it is a very deeply connected act. In no way is it a selfish removing oneself from the flow of things. It's staying in there with it. What I like to encourage people to do is to keep up their activities, whether it's protesting or whatever, and add the other component to it. Because then they begin to learn how to refresh themselves. People who stay in an activist role and open up in some form of contemplative work will have their activism enormously enriched. They'll see opportunities they haven't seen. The whole experience of doing contemplative work is very much a non-linear experience. you can't predict what insights you're going to have. You just know you'll have insights. That's what's guaranteed.

KdB: You've been working on a book on the ecology of the inner life. What do you mean by an ecology of the inner life?

JT: My word is "ecology of the inscape." I started thinking about the word inscape as contrasted to the landscape, or the outscape. The metaphor I've been working with a lot is that when we are confronted with difficult material - anger and so on - the essential contribution of contemplative practice is that we are the landscape and not the storm. Anger, for example, will sweep through and the energy of anger can go ahead and move right through. Our mistake is to identify with the storm and forget we're the landscape. That metaphor is what opened the notion of ecology of the inscape for me. I began thinking of all our emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations, traumas, and everything as the population of being in our inner landscape, or inscape. When you start to think about it in that way, it's quite interesting because you can then see that natural selection occurs in the world of the inscape on those populations of thoughts, feelings and emotions, just as it does in the external landscape. And there is an evolution that goes on internally as well. you can begin to control your evolution toward how you want to be. That really is the notion of the ecology of the inscape - that you can begin to see evolution toward a more open, spacious, loving nature. And you can begin to control the natural selection with your intention and your practice.

James Thornton's

<105164.2261@compuserve.com> book, Radical Confidence: A Field Guide to the Soul, will be published by Dutton Penguin in Fall 1997.


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