Letter to a young farmer

While this blog is called “Your Money or Your Life” I am migrating the core understanding of living your values financially to living your values through your eating – and I’m bringing you along. The book arising from the potters wheel of my mind is called Blessing the Hands that Feed Us. I have asked some of my local farmers featured in the book to answer questions about why they farm, even in the face of minimal net income.

As the answers roll in, I am more in love with them and my work as a “word farmer” – our motivations meet in love for the tangibles of earth and life and the intangibles of love and service.

In response to one farmer I wrote something rough but heartfelt and I wanted to share it:

i don’t know if i told you that i am calling what i discovered “relational eating” – that eating is never a lone act, tho the industrial systems fosters that illusion. It is a relational act. Our food is connected to seed and soil, farm and farmer, forest and forager, and the living system, especially when we eat the food of our locale, food that breathes the same air we breathe. The industrial/commodity system hides all that like the glasses in the Emerald City and the tricks of the Wizard of Oz.

i learned from the YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE work that the consumer culture lives like a vampire, by breaking human bonds and sucking our vitality (to be terribly graphic). every bond broken engenders the loneliness and insufficiency that sends people into consumerism to fill non material needs. so it is with food. we are nourished without being related and it is fundamental insanity. i suspect “lone eating” and being nourished by processed and packaged food-like substances contributes to all food disorders, personal and systemic.

this appears to be up to the lone individuals to fix in their own lives, but it is not. it is up to us to change  our collective approach to nourishment.

Another dynamic of the consumer culture: problems are systemic but our notion of freedom makes us believe our power is in personal solutions. While fine for the aware individual, it is disaster for all of us eating the output of the invisible grinding system, permitting the industrial/commodity approach to food to make problems we as individuals – believing in a false notion of freedom – must solve. Now the problems are multiplying so we the people are crazed with trying to know enough to fix ourselves.

I say reversing this dynamic starts with seed and soil and farmers like you joined by eaters like me who advocate for change, join organizations, build businesses, raise money, spend money locally, lobby, work for change, partner with farmers in every way, allowing them to grow our food while we grow their capacity to farm.

This is all relational eating. This is what i bow before and what my words are dedicated to – as well as the pure joy when the words are flowing and when i know my words have carried ideas across the chasm between my heart/mind and another’s – and inspired a shift in them as well.

Bon Appetite


Celebrating Love on St. Valentine’s Day (hint: he was a bachelor)

Here’s some reflections from my  personal journey seeking – and finding – love.

It is St. Valentine’s day. He was a saint – a confirmed bachelor in love with the divine – who illegally married Christian couples. Risky business in his time. Is it an accident that Governor Christine Gregoire of my State, Washington, just signed into law the right of same sex couples to marry? Defending the right to celebrate romantic love in the face of repressive societies marches on. Saint Valentine, the near-myth goes, was beheaded. Opponents of same sex marriage are after Gregoire’s head too.

While today we celebrate Cupid’s arrows, I want to celebrate whatever might have inspired Valentine himself to the single life. We can’t consult him (if there was a him), so I’m free to riff on these other flavors of the open heart.

A long life and many loves have taught me that the heart simply wants to love. It’s actually indiscriminate – given it’s head, so to speak, the heart would pour out love in great effulgent song. In fact, music, drama, stories, art, dance all vibrate our hearts. We laugh, cry, hold our breath, worry and wonder as the stories unfold. We show up en masse to be moved in this way.

The heart without someone or something or somewhere to love ends up lonely and sad. We think we lack someone, but I think the lack is of a receptacle big enough to receive all we have to give.

I’ve noticed this with all my human loves. When they end, part of my grief is my heart’s confusion about where my love goes now. It shrinks back into its little hole in the chest and waits for another occasion to run out the door, arms flung wide.

Sometimes you encounter a love that lasts a lifetime – in your own coupling or seeing another’s. It’s sweet and tender from beginning to end. We all go to weddings and cry because our hearts recognize themselves in the willing mutual surrender – if only for a moment – to another fragile being. When our friends first fall in love, we congratulate them, sometimes squealing like teenagers whispering at their hall lockers. What is it that so loves love? That heart of our hearts that simply wants to pour out in wild abandon.

My heart – like yours – has been on a long journey. Since my partner of 27 years died, I’ve bumped along like so many confused people later in life, regressing to teenagers to run romance around the block one more time or pondering why they are alone. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences, and some I’ve resolutely forgotten. I developed an ideal that I call “bonded yet free.” Can one be both madly in love and wholly oneself? I think that’s a koan, not a blueprint, but my life isn’t over so I hold it as a possibility.

So much has been written about the expectations and projections and fears and pains of giving our hearts to romantic love. No need for more on that! Let’s move on to the singularity of love.

Over time I noticed that I was happy most of the time just being single, free to follow my intuitions and instincts.

Yet in a coupled society, be it straight or gay, my happiness as a single felt out of place.

About five years ago I found a book called Quirky Alone. It celebrated those of us who are so ourselves that even when we partner we are two quirkies getting it on. Still, “quirky alone” felt like having a chip on my shoulder in a coupled society. I often said in those days, “Anyone I partner with would actually have to make my life better and every day I like my life more so every day the bar goes up.” Did I really really mean it?

Here are some thoughts single people have in a coupled society:

Someday I’ll meet “the one”. I just have to… want it more… let go and let god… expunge my resentments from past relationships… resolve my issues with the parent of the opposite sex… be willing to surrender… to change… to let someone else lead…give up being Peter Pan and grow up… let love in… learn to ballroom dance or fish or scuba dive or ski… edit my profile on OK Cupid… get out more… lose weight… move to another city. You’re avoiding love… you have inner work to do that can only be done in a relationship… don’t give up… don’t settle… keep the faith.

Here are things friends say to single people: you’re just too smart… to accomplished… too self-centered…you want it too much… you don’t want it enough… well, if you lost 10 pounds… Don’t worry, someday you’ll meet someone!

I began to question what actually was wrong with being single? Especially at my age when there are no kids to raise.  I wondered if my intermittent desires to partner arose precisely from the fact that most of my friends are coupled. Did I want to have a partner just so my coupled friends would think, “Let’s have the So-and-Sos over for dinner,” so I’d feel more normal. I started calling couples “Salt and Pepper Shakers” – at least the ones who always go around together.

Recently I found a book called Singleism about the social stigma of being single. It spoke to me so loud I thought someone would tell me to turn down the radio.

It confirmed what I’d begun to think. What if nothing was wrong with me? What if for whatever reason I am designed to be unattached to one person so I can live something deeply real about me: I love loving and I express that love through friends and communities. I receive friends into my heart and with some I can pour out my heart in a way I’ve never done in a romantic relationship. I see the needs of my beloved – friends, groups and communities I care about – and invest my creativity in finding ways to make life better for a wider circle. For several years after my partner died I prayed for someone to come and love me, support me, admire and adore me, to see me and want me and be there as I wobbled. Who doesn’t want that? The answer always came back: your singleness is precisely what I want from you. I want your longing to drive you not into couple-dom but into service.

I’m no saint (Valentine or Vicki) but I now see that single isn’t an exclusion from normal society nor is it a disease, an unfulfilled state, a failure to really love, a reflection of my selfishness or not measuring up. It’s not “quirky alone” even. It is a way of life that supports my soul. I love who I go to sleep with. I love who I wake up with. I love how my heart pours into writing and speaking and leading and friend-ing and creating and philosophizing and beauty and comedy and evolving in wisdom. I suspect that many people in long term relationships have – by my age – have evolved to this state of self-love and self-expression. Their marriages rest in companionship rather than rise in eroticism. Perhaps even some coupled people envy my singleness but loyalty and fear of reprisal keeps them mum about it.

Would I like to be fully met by another being who is also fully single, also wedded to him/herself. Always. Would I like some of the services of partnership, like help around the house and affection and a live-in playmate and support when my courage flags. Always. Can that happen outside romance? I’m beginning to think that for me it only happens outside romance.

So let me today celebrate this love in me, you and all of us. It is not incomplete, second-fiddle, sloppy seconds or almost ran. It is our nature. For me this is closer to agape than eros – I don’t want to turn these feelings into sex. Let me celebrate how juicy and sexy and sensual and delightful and freeing it is to be single without any background noise of “Don’t worry, some day you will meet someone.”

p.s. – did you know that “cupidity” means “covetousness, avidity, hunger, acquisitiveness”? Makes you wonder, no?

Memories of another life

Today, looking at the tiny house on wheels a teenager on Whidbey is building got me thinking about the motorhome – the Ultimate Vehicle – I and my clan built in the early 70’s. A decade ago, sure I wasn’t going on the road again any time soon – I gave it to one of our dearest friends, Jason Weston. He sent these photos of it in the desert a few years ago – still fabulous after 40 years. If you are a builder/tinkerer and want to know more, you can comment.

A 2012 Reflection

Dear Friends far and wide!

As we round the bend into the touted yet mysterious 2012, I offer a small reflection and celebration.

The celebration: Day One of 2012, 20 years after publication of Your Money or Your Life, it is featured as one of USA Weekend’s 5 Personal Finance Books for 2012 you can bank on.

As the economy rocks, I’m glad so many people used – and will use – this program to get financially grounded so they can roll with the current punches.

For half a decade, reading the tea leaves of the economy, resources and climate, I’ve encouraged everyone I know to settle where they want to ride out the waves of seismic changes ahead. I have here on Whidbey Island.

  • I wrote future fiction stories for books like Imagine and Hope Beneath Our Feet.
  • Moving to Whidbey Island, launching Transition Whidbey (in the Transition Town model from the UK) and writing Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking/Penguin 2013) all come out of this intuition unto conviction.
  • In partnership with Aoka, I’ll be leading a sustainable food systems trip October 5-14 to Sao Paulo, Brazil (my second home) to learn about the vibrant food movement there. Stay tuned. Itinerary coming soon.

I’ve also served for several years on the Board of Transition US, working to catalyze communities around the country – hopefully hundreds more this year – to use the excellent Transition organizing approach to get their communities moving towards resilience.

Everything that calls me has a quality of “blessed if you do, blessed if you don’t” – if nothing untoward happens for a decade or two, all these endeavors bring me great joy.

Yes, I’m sort of Little Mary Sunshine of Doom and Gloom. As Leonard Cohen’s Anthem says:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Things are cracking. Let the sun shine in.

My community right now is grieving the death of a little girl on Christmas Day, crushed by a limb falling onto her family’s car. Another friend’s father just died. Another friend hangs on the edge. Occupy Wall Street is shaking things up, speaking for the millions falling off economic edges.

I have a sense that we will see more cracks in what was the smooth surface of a culture that thought we could grow and consume and borrow our way out of our problems. It won’t be bells tolling for others. The bells will ring in all our lives, calling us out of our comforts, cracking any illusions of predictability.

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or it’s nothing.” The adventure is here and much depends now on our attitudes, on turning into the storms asking “what is possible now that this crack has opened?”

Much also depends on “loving the ones we’re with” – not just the people living with us, but living around and near us – your neighbors and towns-people – we used to rush past in pursuit of bigger dreams than our little local lives offer. When they say “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” it means our local “we.”  Who else could it be? Some work for justice, some for innovation, some for peace, some for security, some for art, some for the children. Let’s all now stop a moment and realize we are working together for our communities where we all belong.

A lot of quotes, but for me conventional wisdom seems more poignant now. It contains the wisdom of people of prior eras, people who actually were born, lived and died close to home. Maybe that’s why Your Money or Your Life is a top pick for 2012. It’s conventional wisdom, repackaged for our times.

I hope you will avail yourself of the tools of transitioning – there are so many! Transition US – and many more. I’m loving my local life, and eating has been a powerful way to express this love. I hope you enjoy the 100,000 word meal I’m preparing of ideas and stories and practices and promise that will be Blessing the Hands that Feed Us.

So I send you my very best wishes for a deeply happy 2012. Let’s hold hands and jump into it together.


Here are two beautiful meditations from our home, the earth and spirit.

Brother David

Thich Nhat Han

What is freedom, anyway? Still relevant 5 years since first post

I checked my old personal blog today and found this post from July 4, 2006. At the time I was working on a book about Freedom and Limits – working hard and in isolation and obviously wanting to leak some of it out! Still holds true. OWS is about limiting the 1%’s ability to play a winner takes all game. Not by wrenching money out of their pockets but by using democratic tools to change the conversation. It’s a challenge to freedom = money conversation. Enjoy this tasty morsel, flash from the past!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What *IS* Freedom Anyway? July 4, 2006

Death by Hyper-Freedom
Vicki Robin
July 4, 2006

This morning the coastal fog hugged my little village tight, the sunny feeling of blue skies, parades and expansive American freedom very far from our shores.

I love that sunny feeling. I love that most American part of myself: my optimistic, generous, can-do self. The world is my oyster… and I’ll share because there’s plenty.

But a fog has rolled in on freedom in America and before it rolls out for the day, yielding to sunshine, potlucks and parades, I want to reflect on the fog of self-centeredness, self-importance and overall self-ishness that now passes for freedom in America. Underneath the rhetoric, both on the streets and in the ‘halls of power’ you hear playground taunts. “It’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it. You can’t tell me what to do. I got here first and you can’t have it.” This bully freedom, entitlement freedom, numero-uno freedom has troubled me for a very long time. Almost as long as the can-do freedom, the generous freedom, the expansive, inventive, creative freedom has fueled my life.

I recently offered a workshop on freedom using one possible title for my upcoming book: If this is a free country, why don’t I feel free? Nobody signed up. Thankfully, I found it curious rather than devastating. One friend offered this explanation: “I don’t see that I have a freedom problem. What would I, or anyone, get from it?” In other words, he has real problems. Relationships. Food. Job. Aging. Money. Insecurity. Discrimination. Parents. Kids.

Actually, I think these are all freedom problems. Problems with the partial – and therefore devastating – current idea of freedom in America.

Here’s why. The very hallmark freedoms that permit the sunny version of America have now gone hyper because we’ve made anything that limits us the enemy of our freedom.

Limits, though, enable freedom. They shape and direct freedom. We all place boundaries to protect what we cherish and express what’s within us. Art, design, houses, games, marriages, markets, traffic, values are generated by limits. Rather than talk intelligently about limits, though, we rail against them. We want to grow without limit. And this hyper-freedom is killing us.

Competition in an open and free marketplace has become hyper-competition, a war of all against all. From pre-school to board rooms, the competition for the few seats at the wee table is fierce. As the wealth gap increases, the race to occupy the top 10% gets more ruthless. If you want your kid to go to Harvard rather than flip burgers, gotta start his education early. Like in the womb. Birth is way too late.

Choice has gone hyper too. From being able to select from a range of products rather than one state issued pair of shoes, we’ve entered the era of oppressive, obsessive choosing – picking the right cell phone, internet service provider, car, computer, cereal, investment, vacation and on and on. And who has the time – we have to work 2 jobs to afford it all.

Which brings me to time. From the freedom to work hard to get ahead we’ve gone to hyper-speed: 24/7/365. If you don’t keep pace, someone else, right behind you, will get ahead of you. The need to exceed the speed of those you are competing with has us sacrificing sleep to keep up. As John deGraaf, founder of TAKE BACK YOUR TIME, contends, we need time to care – to love, parent, learn, worship – and as a society we are not time friendly. Even activists suffer, urgently keeping pace with the train-wrecks of injustice, war, global warming and more.

Each individual’s freedom to have, do or be what we want has become hyper-individualism, a burdensome loneliness of people cut loose from community, who pay for connection by bonding with companies that don’t care about them, eschewing churches then going to workshops and therapists to simply be heard, losing first loves and not knowing where to find the next one. The up and coming household is single. With cat. Like mine.

How many of our relationship, food, job, aging, money, insecurity, etc. problems are rooted in this hyper-freedom world where the only way we know to feel free is to get away from what holds us. It is harder to bond today. Harder to stay bonded. Harder to have job security, harder to care for our bodies and families, harder to find love because the forces of dissolution – away – are so much stronger than the forces of connection. The ties that bind immediately pinch – and we move on. Studies show that loneliness and isolation lead to body and soul disease and early death. We treat the symptoms, but do not question this toxic freedom that convinces us all that to be free is to be on top, at choice, on the go and on our own.

Sustainability is certainly a freedom problem. How can we address overshoot – the condition we’ve been in since the mid-70’s of using up more of the earth’s resources than can be replenished – if we can’t tolerate the fact of limits. Hyper-freedom says we can just get away from problems: invent something new, farm in Siberia, live in space, live in a gated community, find a substitute source of fuel. How, pray tell, will we substitute for water. We are up against major limits and in total denial, and hyper-freedom is the major enabler.

No, it’s not a free country anymore. We are not free to rest, to eat good food, to hang out with people we love, slow down, live at a sane pace, feel secure in our communities without sending armies to our borders or distant lands to stop people before they come and get our good life.

Oh, except for our few holidays, like 4th of July. Today. Freedom day. And what are we celebrating again? I’ll celebrate freedom in America when we get off the hypers and settle down to being a decent kid on the big planetary block, working and playing well with others, valuing our souls and collectively setting some boundaries we collectively respect. Give me grown up liberty or I fear we are all choosing death by hyper-freedom.


p.s. later in the day after the fantastic picnic and parade

Today George Lakoff in the Boston Globe also wrote about the framing battle over freedom in America*. He, like me, counted the number of times…

“President Bush, in his second inaugural address, used “freedom,” “free,” and “liberty”… 49 times in 20 minutes. “Liberty” has become the watchword of the radical right. The right has taken over the use of these words as part of its appropriation of patriotism. Progressives must reclaim not merely the words “freedom” and “liberty,” but the ideas that made this a free country. To lose freedom is awful; to lose the idea of freedom would be worse.”

A political advisor yesterday, hearing me speak, said the “right” wins in the voting booth because of our uneasiness with “hyper-freedoms.” It stands for “law and order” (who wants lawlessness and disorder?), “safety” (who wants danger as a collective way of life?), “protection” (no one wants to be defenseless). Can you see how the conversation needs to shift to where we place our limits to get more of what we value, not freedom vs. limits? Yes we all have “family values.” How absurd to think “the left” wants a rootless, valueless, disconnected, dissolute America, but that’s how the “freedom” issue shows up.

We need to ask: “What values do we actually share here in America?” Answering that seriously will take real soul searching. Consumerism wins because it’s the one common good, or goods. Americans (so the myth goes) all want, deserve and have a right to more stuff. Don’t fence me in when I’m at the store!

But if we agree, for example, that good families are essential to a good society (as they always have been!), then we ask, “What are the qualities of good families that we want more of?” There’s a great conversation for you! Safety? Protection? Care for the young? Education in “knowing right from wrong”? Love? I am certain “left” and “right” would generate very similar lists. Then we ask, “What minimal limits must we collectively place on ourselves – through laws and culture – to get the good families we want? How do we win the ‘good family’ game?” Okay, we’re back to the debate, but with a lot of respectful conversation and shared understanding. We arrive someplace in the vicinty of families where there is love, stability and decency over time. So how do we get that? Well, now we’re into the very lively diversity that is America.

We need to get out of the debate with its dueling frames. We need to get into the respectful conversations about “what we hold dear” and “what limits we agree on to protect those essential goods.”

Lakoff is correct. The left has lost all the important marbles: freedom, values, morality, law, order, family. What’s left is not recapturing the flag, but questioning the game. We all want freedom, values, morality and such. How – through what permissions and prohibitions – will get us there… that’s actually the essence of the conversation that is democracy in America and in that conversation all the jingoistic, bombastic, ideological bullsh-t (left and right) will be as convincing as an Emperor who has no clothes.

Slow Money Slow Food

Long time no post! I’m writing a new book about local food and am in steep learning and deep writing mode. But I am taking a break from the computer to attend the Slow Money Conferencing in San Francisco October 12-14 which brings my two fascinations – food and money – together. I’ll write more as the weeks go on about how food and money relate (not just cost!) and how my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed You; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking 2012) parallels the transformational tools in Your Money or Your Life.

I am super excited to be participating in the transformation of my local farming community while I eat the fresh, yummy food my farmers grow.

If you are near San Francisco, I hope to see you at this Slow Money conference and dream together over the years to come about regenerating our local food systems.

Places to Intervene in a System, in case you don’t know

Donella Meadows was one of my great mentors. She, Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers were authors of the revolutionary 1974 Limits to Growth Report. These MIT early systems thinkers had the audacity to reveal the results of their computer modeling of resource flows – to wit, sometime early in the next millennium we’d hit multiple resource walls and systems could start crashing. They were lauded and vilified.  Now they are being proven right – unfortunately – though they also wrote that there is no limit to learning and hopefully we are learning fast enough to make some courageous, innovative choices now.

Dana died suddenly and tragically in 2001 and I miss her sane, clear and warm voice to this day. Today I want to share a paper most young contemporaries never heard of. It continues as one of my touchstones of “resourcefulness” – my current focus for my speaking and writing. It’s called Leverage Points to Intervene in a System. To read the original in pdf form from the website of the institute she started, go here.

Leverage points to intervene in a system

The following are in increasing order of effectiveness.

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)

Parameters are points of lowest leverage effects. Though they are the most clearly perceived among all leverages, they rarely change behaviors and therefore have little long-term effect.

For example, climate parameters may not be changed easily (the amount of rain, the evapotranspiration rate, the temperature of the water), but they are the ones people think of first (they remember that in their youth, it was certainly raining more). These parameters are indeed very important. But even if changed (improvement of upper river stream to canalize incoming water), they will not change behavior much (the debit will probably not dramatically decrease).

11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows

A buffer‘s ability to stabilize a system is important when the stock amount is much higher than the potential amount of inflows or outflows. In the lake, the water is the buffer: if there’s a lot more of it than inflow/outflow, the system stays stable.

For example, the inhabitants are worried the lake fish might die as a consequence of hot water release directly in the lake without any previous cooling off.However, the water in the lake has a large heat capacity, so it’s a strong thermic buffer. Provided the release is done at low enough depth, under the thermocline, and the lake volume is big enough, the buffering capacity of the water might prevent any extinction from excess temperature.

Buffers can improve a system, but they are often physical entities whose size is critical and can’t be changed easily.

10. Structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)

A system’s structure may have enormous effect on operations, but may be difficult or prohibitively expensive to change. Fluctuations, limitations, and bottlenecks may be easier to address.

For example, the inhabitants are worried about their lake getting polluted, as the industry releases chemical pollutants directly in the water without any previous treatment. The system might need the used water to be diverted to a waste water treatment plant, but this requires rebuilding the underground used water system (which could be quite expensive).

9. Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes

Information received too quickly or too late can cause over- or underreaction, even oscillations.

For example, the city council is considering building the waste water treatment plant. However, the plant will take 5 years to be built, and will last about 30 years. The first delay will prevent the water being cleaned up within the first 5 years, while the second delay will make it impossible to build a plant with exactly the right capacity.

8. Strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against

A negative feedback loop slows down a process, tending to promote stability. The loop will keep the stock near the goal, thanks to parameters, accuracy and speed of information feedback, and size of correcting flows.

For example, one way to avoid the lake getting more and more polluted might be through setting up an additional levy on the industrial plant based on measured concentrations of its effluent. Say the plant management has to pay into a water management fund, on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the actual amount of waste found in the lake; they will, in this case, receive a direct benefit not just from reducing their waste output, but actually reducing it enough to achieve the desired effect of reducing concentrations in the lake. They cannot benefit from “doing damage more slowly” — only from actually helping. If cutting emissions, even to zero, is insufficient to allow the lake to naturally purge the waste, then they will still be on the hook for cleanup. This is similar to the US “Superfund” system, and follows the widely accepted “polluter pays principle”.

7. Gain around driving positive feedback loops

A positive feedback loop speeds up a process. Meadows indicates that in most cases, it is preferable to slow down a positive loop, rather than speeding up a negative one.

The eutrophicationof a lake is a typical feedback loop that goes wild. In a eutrophic lake (which means well-nourished), lots of life can be supported (fish included).An increase of nutrients will lead to an increase of productivity, growth of phytoplankton first, using up as much nutrients as possible, followed by growth of zooplankton, feeding up on the first ones, and increase of fish populations. The more nutrients available there is, the more productivity is increased. As plankton organisms die, they fall at the bottom of the lake, where their matter is degraded by decomposers.

However, this degradation uses up available oxygen, and in the presence of huge amounts of organic matter to degrade, the medium progressively becomes anoxic (there is no more oxygen available). Upon time, all oxygen-dependent life dies, and the lake becomes a smelly anoxic place where no life can be supported (in particular no fish).

6. Structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

Information flow is neither a parameter, nor a reinforcing or slowing loop, but a loop that delivers new information. It is cheaper and easier than changing structure.

For example, a monthly public report of water pollution level, especially nearby the industrial release, could have a lot of effect on people’s opinions regarding the industry, and lead to changes in the waste water level of pollution.

5. Rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)

Pay attention to rules, and to who makes them.

For example, a strengthening of the law related to chemicals release limits, or an increase of the tax amount for any water containing a given pollutant, will have a very strong effect on the lake water quality.

4. Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

Self-organization describes a system’s ability to change itself by creating new structures, adding new negative and positive feedback loops, promoting new information flows, or making new rules.

For example, microorganisms have the ability to not only change to fit their new polluted environment, but also to undergo an evolution that make them able to biodegrade or bioaccumulate chemical pollutants. This capacity of part of the system to participate to its own eco-evolution is a major leverage for change.

3. Goal of the system

Changes every item listed above: parameters, feedback loops, information and self-organisation.

A city council decision might be to change the goal of the lake from making it a free facility for public and private global use, to a more touristic oriented facility or a conservation area. That goal change will effect several of the above leverages : information on water quality will become mandatory and legal punishments will be set for any illegal polluted effluent.

2. Mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises out of

A society paradigm is an idea, an unstated assumption that everyone shares, thoughts, or states of thoughts that are sources of systems. Paradigms are very hard to change, but there are no limits to paradigm change. Meadows indicates paradigms might be changed by repeatedly and consistently pointing out anomalies and failures to those with open minds.

A current paradigm is “Nature is a stock of resources to be converted to human purpose”. What might happen to the lake were this collective idea changed ?

1. Power to transcend paradigms

Transcending paradigms may go beyond challenging fundamental assumptions, into the realm of changing the values and priorities that lead to the assumptions, and being able to choose among value sets at will.

Many today see Nature as a stock of resources to be converted to human purpose. Many Native Americans see Nature as a living god, to be loved, worshipped, and lived with. These views are incompatible, but perhaps another viewpoint could incorporate them both, along with others.

How to Be versus What to Do

Right now we all want to know what to DO about our money lives – myself included. First we need to BE with our money lives, though, and let the doing come from clarity rather than fear.

Every day I hear another story about someone whose house is “underwater” – not a tsunami of water but a tsunami of debt. Their houses are worth less than they paid for them so their mortgages are more like rent than investment in ownership.

Do you hold or fold? Stay or go? Cut your losses? Keep dog paddling to avoid foreclosure? Walk away and let the bank deal with it?

What is the “resourceful” step when your security is shaken – which promises to be a more common stomach-sinking experience from here on. As you’ll notice if you’ve been reading this blog, Resourcefulness is my theme, what I taught in my teleclasses and will teach at Schumacher College end of May.

There are two (at least) kinds of resourcefulness – being and doing. Inner and outer. Without inner resourcefulness, the outer choices will likely be hurried, fear-based, strategic but not spiritual. The solutions will be the next problems – and if you aren’t prepared for that you’ll lurch from one adaptation to the next.

Selling my wonderful house in Seattle is an example. A group of us bought this capacious 8 bedroom home in 1987 with such creative financing it utterly confused the bank – but it worked. By 1990 we owned it free and clear.

Many hundreds of people passed through that front door. Our commitment was that entering the space of the house was entering the space of love. They came as friends. They came as colleagues – many well known speakers lecturing in Seattle or promoting their books.

They also came as volunteers for our medical research project on the mind body connection in Lou Gehrig’s disease (we found a strong correlation between attitude and outcome in this normally fatal condition and published the results in a peer review medical journal).

They came for parties and Dances of Universal Peace and work parties and meetings for Conversation Cafes or our New Road Map Foundation.

After Joe Dominguez died in 1997 they kept coming, and some even moved in. After I was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 I moved out to enter a phase of solitude and still people kept filling the rooms with love and life.

It was like a sprawling family home to everyone who ever lived there. Problems of every kind were solved in the kitchen. Chores were shared. Repairs were made and appliances replaced but nothing remodeled for the sake of style.

Finally, 2 years ago I settled again and bought my own house (for cash with savings mind you!) and now my co-owners are moving on to a new community so we are selling.

Had we chosen this 4 years ago we would have sold into the peak of the market. I’m sure a developer would have torn the house down and taken advantage of the double corner lot a mile from the University of Washington with a view of the Cascades and built two narrow tall upscale townhouses. But we chose then to have it continue as a community home rather than a cash cow.

Financially we’ve definitely taken an expectation hit if we compare to the top of the market. To potential buyer’s eyes, our home cries out for updating and remodeling and they are mentally adding that to our asking price. So far, lots of lookers but no offers.

We’ve taken the price down to attract whatever buyers have been circling but not landing. A good strategic choice, yet it required an inner choice as well. To surrender expectations born of the wild housing market of the last decade. To remember that this house was never for profit. It was for love. If we get back what we put into it that is ENOUGH. Our wealth is a quarter century of shelter, lived integrity, great adventures, and as much good for others and the world as we could generate. I’d like to pass that along with the 3000 square feet.

Having made that mental shift from greed to gratitude, you bet I’m getting REALLY resourceful about what to do. We’ve gone from apparently no options to a dozen options I’m going to enact in the next months. I’ll bet we even get our current asking price. More on this adventure in posts to come.

My point here is that my heart needed to surrender. So what we didn’t sell at the top? So what my so called retirement may be less cushy? So what I wasn’t financially astute enough to work out a deal with a buyer or bank earlier in the cycle? So what!

This house is like a human. To die well we all hope that the process of dying will bring out the best in us, not render us querulous and in denial. So too in selling the family home.

Hope and Resourcefulness

Three years ago I wrote a chapter for a book called Hope Beneath our Feet, a compilation of essays in response to the editor, Martin  Keogh’s, question: If we’re looking down the barrel of environmental disaster, how then shall we live our lives?

As I had before (for Imagine by Marianne Williamson, now out of print), I wrote from the perspective of the near future (20-40 years). As I’ve said in recent posts, my sense is that we’re deeper into the cracking of the old assumptions and expectations and institutions and heading into the Age of Resourcefulness (which I’ll be teaching at Schumacher College. This piece is pure resourcefulness.

Dear Reader,
I was musing on what to write for this essay when an email came in with the subject, “Letter from Vicki, 2030.” No, it’s not a hoax. I opened it and now offer it to you as better than anything I might write in 2008. I hope you find it as heartening as I did.
Vicki Robin
Langley, WA March 2008

Dear Vicki,
Hello from 2030 from your 85-year-old-self (yes, we still have our teeth and still dance). We just got the inter-time communications system up and running and every one of us alive gets to write one free letter to our younger self. There are so many restrictions on what we can say. I can’t tell you exactly what is happening. I can’t try to “change history.” You can’t write me back. Rules! As you can see, anal bureaucrats are still with us, but I understand their reasoning. We’ve made it into a very decent future but had to cross quite a desert to get here. Out of pure love we’d all like to spare you the suffering and change the past, but the GWC (Global Wisdom Council) says that if we eliminate the stripping away we might damage the peace we’ve made with living here.

Even though I can’t steer you (as if you would ever let anyone do that!) I can shine a light on the choices you are already making — sort of like, “Nudge nudge, hint hint, step there.” I can’t tell you about the stunning innovations and twists of fate that got us to quite a grand 2030. I can only talk to you about what you already know. Don’t ask around to see if anyone you know got a similar email. A lot of them just didn’t make it into the future and they’ll feel bad knowing that. Of course, by getting this you know that you, my dear, will survive another 22 years. After this, lord knows what will happen to “us.”

If you are about to hit delete, thinking this is a hoax, please at least read this quick and dirty key to your future: less, local and love. Use less, live local and love other people, because they are what sees you through.

Hint One: Save – and make – energy
You made a good choice in 2008 to do an Airplane Fast and not fly for a year. The irony of flying around the world to lecture people on sustainable living finally got to you. You learned to travel electronically while letting your body stay more still. From that you started to belong where you are and, as you’ll see later, community is what the future is all about. I think now of the David Waggoner lines “Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.” Here, though, is now everywhere as well. The web is humming on levels you can’t imagine and frankly there’s been a big sigh of relief that air transport is constrained for… well, I can’t say. Think of the innovations in the last five years – YouTube, Wikis, Blogs, Webcams. Consider Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months). Add the intuitive capacities you’ve seen in young children – and yourself. And contemplate what “here” might mean to me. Planes to use seem like jalopies.

While staying home, you’d also do well to follow those impulses to make home more energy efficient. Hint, don’t buy any more lamps for screw-in bulbs; more efficient lighting is coming soon. Hint, just drive your 50-mpg Honda Insight until it dies; you’ll be amazed what’s next in mob-tech (that’s mobility technology). Here I just have to bite my tongue. I’ll just say that if someone we know invests in some Wind Farm Venture on her island or in some Solar Installation business she might be set for life. It used to be location location location. Now It’s local local local. By staying home you will see many opportunities to retrofit home for a Post-Peak-Oil future. You’ll also find yourself getting political, because shared solutions for energy are better than just putting solar hot water on your roof – as you will anyway.

Hint Two: Grow food
We’ve now studied the behavior of our species in transition and have discovered that a spike in “lawns to lunch” (home garden acreage) is a leading indicator of impending resource constraints. The future casts a shadow for those who pay attention to the horizon, and when people hanker after land and gardening like they used to hanker after opera and travel, you know a shift is coming. Follow all your impulses to grow food, to organize local food systems, to sidle up to neighbors with lawns and suggest you could find a young farmer who’d love to turn that useless mono-crop of grass into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Save seeds. Go ahead, if you want, and buy land to grow food, but frankly you have a talent for growing kale and zucchini – and not much else. Support CSAs. Partner with other singles to do a share. You’ve been thinking about raising chickens. All I’ll say is, “Not a bad idea.” Or join that goat coop, take that cheese-making class and buy up all the used canning jars at the thrift store. Think food. Dream food. Do food. Eat food (but less).

Hint Three: Make peace with your past – and future
I’m not going to kid you. Some really hard knocks are coming. Some are just as you imagine, others are not. A way of life based on treating finite resources as infinite is ending, and we are still living with the shocks and aftershocks of it. We were slow to move on the mandate of 80% reduction of carbon by 2050 and are reaping the consequences. Yes, there have been environmental catastrophes (but there have also been “benestrophes” – unexpected accumulations of good). Yes, many have died; some at their own hands, since living within the means of the planet didn’t seem like living at all. Be prepared to live through this, knowing that in the larger scheme of thing – and nature – it’s quite natural for populations to overshoot and collapse. Death itself isn’t as tragic as living in fear of death and allowing suspicion and greed to flourish in your mind. Cultivate a calm and caring attitude, even while you rail inside against it all (I can guarantee you’ll rail, weep, get mad… you’re human). Making peace now with the future means accepting now the many losses that will come, so that you won’t be in shock and useless. Be like the musicians on the Titanic. Create beauty, because those who will die and those who survive both need that. Clearly, since I’m writing, you and others survive – actually, life is grand. Making peace with the future also means that you will roll with the good stuff ahead as well.

So here’s some things you’re doing that I’d suggest you keep doing:
Your practice of frugality – getting the maximum pleasure out of every morsel consumed – puts you in a good position to welcome limits as sanity, not deprivation, and to surf the waves of change. Keep teaching your “high joy-to-stuff” strategies. A lot of people listen to you. Give them something real to chew on.
There is nothing wrong in your past – it’s all useful. Appreciate everything you’ve done and see what good can come of it. That goes for your relationships, of course – but I also mean (and I can’t say too much about it) the whole exuberance of the oil-enabled industrial growth model. Stay open to the good in every technology and every innovation because they may be precursors of the future light-structures. Question your assumptions, abandon your Luddite tendencies and ask about everything, “What’s good about you that brought you into being?”
Joe Dominguez used to point out to us (you and me… funny to talk with you this way) that when there was 25% unemployment in the 1930’s Depression, 75% of the people were employed. In other words, use your bright mind to see the opportunities in obstacles. In fact, the future is friendly to people who evolve and evolution tends to favor the braver – those willing to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Pay attention to what is being born, even as you tenderly allow all that is passing away to go.
The future will also be friendly to those who shift from “me” to “we.” Be an opportunist – but on behalf of your community. Which brings me to…

Hint Four: Treat everyone within 50 miles like you love them.
You will need them as your friends. They are the raw materials of a sane future, if you want to be purely pragmatic. They are also your brain; alone you’ll never know enough to survive, but within 50 miles of home is all the intelligence and information you’ll need. If you’re friendly and generous these neighbors will come to trust you. Of course friendliness actually takes guts – not the guts it takes to protest (which you will still do for years), but the guts it takes to risk rejection, care first, forgive, apologize, ask before you attack. In other words, loving the ones you’re with requires tolerance, acceptance and letting go of selfishness. I might also point out that among the 3 million people within 50 miles of you now are probably every friend, lover, dance partner, big thinker or young person you’ll ever need. Go find them. Trade with them. Network with them. Play with them. Help them through hard times. Share meals and homes. Call them to see how their interview or operation went. Ask them to coach you in reaching for your dreams. Even though they aren’t “exotic”, they’re actually interesting, remarkable, smart, kind and skilled. Every one a gem.

Pay attention to “co” words. They are the future. Cooperation. Communion. Community. Collaboration. Communication. Your Conversation Cafes don’t quite fit the word pattern but they are important for people to practice and learn all the other “co” words. Console will also be needed.

Do all you can in pairs and teams. Do work parties and cleaning parties and shedding stuff parties and investing clubs and buying groups and service groups. The era of the Lone Ranger and the Great Hero is passing. Build community. “If you invite them they will come.” Alone you are brittle. Together you are supple.

Hint Five: Pack your personal ark
Just as airlines have a baggage weight limit, to cross the great ocean of time and catastrophe into the future you’ll need to pack carefully. What of your current life must you have in a future governed by “less, local and love?” I can’t tell you what’s coming but I can say this: Scenario A is that you muddle through and your daily life doesn’t change that much in 25 years. The rich get richer and the poor poorer, but life goes on. Scenario B is that catastrophes (and “benestrophes” – overwhelmingly good things) do come. Your weather does change, the seas do rise, energy shortages do occur and the dollar isn’t what it used to be. Select what you want for either case. If it’s A, well, you’ll have the things you need and have shed of a lot of excess baggage. If B, you’ll have the things you need – and need them. Here are some categories to consider:
Seeds: heirloom, open pollinated
Books: reference, how-to and inspirational
Tools: to build things, fix things, make things (good girl, you got a treadle sewing machine in 2007), study things, kill things (a rifle, butcher knife and fishing pole), roll things (wheels save your back and feet)
Clothes: warm, durable, layers, good shoes, glitter for parties
Furniture: durable, comfortable, multi-purpose
Household: durable. Really useful things with cords are okay (we’ve never been without that blender), but hand tools will be needed… like wire whisks and wooden spoons and good chopping knives.
Health care: stock up on and freeze must-have prescription drugs, buy basic medical books. You’ll be surprised at how little you pop in your mouth is still needed. Remember what Norman Cousins said, “85% of all illness is self-limiting,” – and for the rest, I’d say that painkillers and antibiotics are heaven’s gift to the creaky.
Beauty: brushes and combs. Keep all those scarves and earrings (and a coupla lipsticks) to feel pretty, which is water for the soul.
Energy: batteries, yes – but everyone should have one back-up solar panel and/or hand- crank generator for communications technology. Get a solar cooker. Insulate whatever you live in. Double-pane windows. Use the last hours of ancient sunlight (Thom Hartmann’s name for oil) to create a low-energy environment for the future.

You get the drift. Buy and keep what will last. Buy and keep what has multiple uses (like a knife and pot rather than a Cuisinart and electric rice cooker). You’re not packing a real Conestoga Wagon so you can keep everything you have now if you want. Remember your old Your Money or Your Life idea of enoughness? Not just survival. Not just adequate. Truly rich in everything from basics to luxuries, but nothing in excess. Shed the surplus early and often. Scenarios A and B both favor living lightly.

Hint Six: Make yourself useful
Head’s up. A local future belongs to the person who makes herself truly useful to real people, not to the one who can market some useless gadget to unsuspecting consumers. You’ll find it hard to trade your knack for inspiring others for bicycle repair, but don’t worry. If you can make people laugh, you’ll always be taken care of. Hone all people skills (see Hint Four above). The future needs facilitators, negotiators, re-framers, therapists, counselors – anyone with patience in the face of human suffering. The future also needs: handymen, emergency management specialists, nurses, gardeners, inventers, record keepers, geeks and techies of every ilk, musicians, athletes, mechanics, engineers, cooks, team players, canning, inventers, teachers, midwives, writers, body workers, artists, project managers, inventers, story tellers, hunters and fishermen, builders, farmers, inventers, designers of every sort imaginable, healers of every sort imaginable, pathologists, emergency medical technicians, inventers. There’s no lack of good work here in the future.

I do hope this all gets through. The censors may zap anything I say that gives you too much information. But here’s what I can tell you about now. The birds are singing. The children are healthy. They don’t blame us for our mistakes – we now know for certain that our generation did our best with what we had and what we knew. This new generation understands that blame is toxic and they simply don’t do it. It makes them seem like angels, really. They know they are making the future – and that’s what gives meaning to life. They are actually watching over you now. Yes, we in the future travel in time to care for you. We do our best to help without interfering. You are loved. All of you. Have courage. Keep going. It’s working out.

Grace Lee Boggs and a Culture of Resourcefulness

Want to be moved and inspired?

Please take 2 minutes and read the transcript below of Grace Lee Boggs on Democracy Now yesterday in which  she speaks with Amy Goodman about themes I’ve also lived and taught for years – that as we let go of consumerism and “job-ism” we recognize our most potent resources are our creativity and our community. I’ve highlighted my zingers. And this is precisely what I want to share in my class at Schumacher college next month.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Detroit, we’re also joined by Grace Lee Boggs, who has just published her umpteenth book. It’s called The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century. Grace is 96 years old, here in New York, though headed back to Detroit, legendary activist. Grace, talk about where we are today and where we need to be. I mean, certainly, Detroit is ground zero for the economic downturn.

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, I think that we are at a very critical time in the history of the world. And I think that there’s a sense out there to which the President and the others do not speak, that this is a time when we have to make very deep changes. I think people understand that the empire is dying, that the welfare state that it made possible is also no longer possible, and therefore that we have to begin recreating our relationships with one another and with the rest of the world. And it’s a very troubling time for most Americans, but it’s only, I think, a relatively small number who understand that we have to create the world anew and that we have to call upon the powers within ourselves to do that. It’s a huge moment, and we’re very privileged, actually, to be part of that moment, and to speak to it, not from the White House, not from D.C., but from our sense of what people are searching for.

The first chapter of our new book is called “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls.” I think people—some people recognize—I’m not saying all people recognize that, but this is really the time to grow our souls, to begin making a life and not just a living, to begin talking about things not just in terms of budgets and how we can use this sum of money and that sum of money for that purpose. People are suffering economically, but I think they understand that the issue is not an economic issue. It’s a question of, how shall we live? How shall we continue the evolution of human beings? What does it mean to be a human being at this time on the clock of the world? And I think we have to speak to that. I don’t expect President Obama to speak to that. And that’s why I don’t think demonstrations and protests are that meaningful. From the White House, you talk about history in a different way: you try and tell people that the American Dream is not dead, that we can re-bring it back to life. And people know, in a sense, that it is dead, that we have to create a new American Dream and that the opportunity to do that is a great privilege, a great challenge.

JUAN GONZALEZ: … you’re saying that you believe that the real revolution is not a political one, but is a cultural one, or, as you’re saying, in terms of reshaping our relationships with each other. But how do you respond then to the millions of Americans who are out of jobs, who say that they may want to change their relationships to other people, but they also have to be able to make a living to support their families?

GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well, let’s—that business of making a living, I think, is what we need to challenge. I think that in Detroit, because of the devastation of deindustrialization, we recognize that we have to reimagine work, that we have to reimagine how we relate to one another. We have to see that the jobs that paid us income also turned us into consumers and robbed us of some of our creativity, and robbed us also of our obligations to one another and robbed us of our relationships to community, and that we have to restore those. And that’s part of what human beings have done through the ages, and that it’s a privilege to do that. It’s difficult, but it’s also a challenge.

…there are huge financial issues in Detroit, but you can’t look at a time like this mainly in terms of finances. You have to ask yourself, if 10,000 students are dropping out of school every year, creating a huge fiscal crisis, is it a financial question, or have the schools failed? And were they created at a time when people were thinking an industrial society and preparing children for a job in a society that no longer exists?…

And I think it’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t live in Detroit to say you can look at a vacant lot and, instead of seeing devastation, see hope, see the opportunity to grow your own food, see an opportunity to give young people a sense of process, that’s very difficult in the city, that the vacant lot represents the possibilities for a cultural revolution. It’s amazing how few Americans understand that, even though I think filmmakers and writers are coming to the city and trying to spread the word.