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Yesterday was unusually hot for a Spring day. I had good intentions for the afternoon, but gave in to drowsiness while trying to read, and had an afternoon nap. I was more than a nap. I was asleep for three hours and  kept busy with dreams.

In the last dream we were on holidays at a campsite in the country. The kind with old timber dormitories out in the Australian bushland. We were walking on a track in the bush when we noticed smoke in the air. We came upon a crew of firefighters. They were backburning in an attempt to cut off a fire nearby. They told us to get back to the campsite and pack, as the fire was coming close. We were being evacuated.

When I woke up my first thought was to check out the back windows. I expected to see smoke. The scent of burning bush was hanging in the air. This is what I saw:

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The low cloud in the distance is not cloud, but smoke coming from a fire in the southern highlands to the south of Sydney. I turned on the news, and heard that there were fires to the north, west and south of the city. Smoke from the west was blanketing much of Sydney. The line between dream and reality had blurred.

A quick look out the front revealed an ugly black carpet of smoke to the north. This explains the number of planes taking off over our part of the city – it was the only gap of clear sky between the smoke clouds.

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Its amazing the havoc created by one hot, dry, windy Spring day. There were 100 fires burning in the state, many of them out of control. Commuters who work in the city and live in the outlying areas were having difficulty getting home with roads and train lines cut.

I feel for the students finishing high school are who are in the middle of their final exams. They were being warned not to take risks to get to school, or to go to a different school. Thats pressure you don’t need!

From our high position the smoky sky created a dramatic sunset. Eerie to think that out there volunteer fire fighters are battling the blazes close up.

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We are fine here in the city, but thinking of friends with homes near fire outbreaks. Many homes were lost, and at least one man has died.

Bushfires are part and parcel of living in Australia, although they are not normally so early in the summer. So early in the summer that its still the middle of spring. Australian people are resiliant, and I have a feeling that this summer we will need to be.

Strange that I should dream about being evacuated from a bushfire, when around me other people  were being evacuated for real.

I just finished reading The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C Korten. It was recommended reading in Active Hope, and explores the concept of The Great Turning in much greater depth. This is an over-the-counter book, but I feel like it should come with some kind of warning – READ WITH CAUTION: This book could change your life. I am still absorbing the ideas and their implications, but I am going to attempt to share some of it with you.

The central idea is that we are at a critical time in human history which may be described by future generations as “The Great Unraveling” when out-of-control consumption overwhelmed the world’s resources and threatened the survival of the human population. However David Korten suggests that this time also has the potential to become “The Great Turning” if we can learn to live in partnership with each other and the earth. The main argument is

It is within our means, ..to shape a positive outcome if we choose to embrace the resulting crisis as an opportunity to lift ourselves to a new level of species maturity and potential.

The concept of Empire features strongly as representing a dominator model for human interaction which is  based on power and control for the benefit of a few, in contrast to a partnership model which nurtures cooperation and expression for the benefit of all. The idea is to more away from Empire towards an Earth Community which is more inclusive and life sustaining.

The idea which stood out most to me was the map of the developmental pathway from the least mature to the most mature orders of human consciousness which is a basis for understanding how to build Earth Community and to understand what is going wrong now. This has five stages:

First Order: Magical Consciousness – like a yound child who experiences the world as subject to the whims of magical beings. The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

Second Order: Imperial Consciousness – like an older child who can distinguish between real and imagined events, and understands that actions have consequences. Influences the behaviour of others for self interested purposes, but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude or justice.

Third Order: Socialized Consciousness: influenced by the norms of the group and able to feel empathy with others in their group, and act for the good of others within their reference group.

Fourth Order: Cultural Consciousness – The ability to recognise culture as a social construct and that there are many cultures outside of our own. There is a concern with justice for all people, not just ones own group.

Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness – an awakening to all creation as a complex multi-dimensional, interconnected whole.  It transcends the exclusiveness of group loyalties to embrace the whole.

The significance of this analysis is the premise that the past 5000 years or so of human history have been dominated by views and behaviours with reflect the Second Order, which Korten calls the Imperial Consciousness. He sees human history with is large scale wars, invasions and exploitation of people and resources as the acting out of an immature and selfish mentality.

The exercise before us then is to awaken to a broader appreciations of what it means to be human, which involves looking outside our own personal self interest, and the interests of our own family or social group, to appreciate the diversity of the peoples of the world, and the interconnectedness of life itself.

The construct of Empire as the dominant ideology is applied in detail to many of our human endeavours, turning conventional understandings of history, politics and religion on their heads in the search for a more humane and sustainable way of living. Although many of the ideas were not new to me, and many of the observations were similar to my own, I found the process of reading through the interpretation quite confronting. I am still thinking it through, integrating what makes sense to me.

My main hesitation about this analysis is the presentation of the levels of consciousness as a ladder on which we can place ourselves and others. Although the five types of consciousness described make a lot of sense to me, I feel reluctant to engage in labelling other people as being of an inferior consciousness. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that we all have the potential to act from each of the five levels of consciousness. It may be a slippery slope to label greed and ignorance as being wholly outside ourselves. It seems more helpful to identify the value systems influencing particular ideas and actions, rather than to brand people as the opposition in a ideological war of the enlightened against the ignorant.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for something challenging to read that extends your thinking and challenges your world view, you will certainly find it here.

I have returned from a brief holiday in Melbourne and am trying to settle back into a routine. We were on the move so much on the holiday that it wasn’t viable to keep up the posts, apart from a few pictures that found their way onto Facebook. It was good to get away and be a “traveller” absorbed in the basics such as working out how to get to places, find food and drink, and locating our beds for the night.

Before I went away I had embarked on the task of learning more about a few issues that are of concern to me, such as climate change and the refugee situation in Australia. The experience of working on a polling booth handing out “how to vote cards” taught me that although I understand what I think is  important and why, I’m not able to explain my position well to others, particularly if they are coming at the issue from a different perspective. I couldn’t quote facts or direct people to resources that would explain the issues, and I wasn’t adept at parrying questions and deflecting jibes. It seemed like a good idea to get better informed.

What I quickly found is that while there is a lot of information available on these topics, its impossible for me to approach this as an intellectual exercise. Reading about threats to biodiversity and the risks of climate change is very confronting, and can be really discouraging. Engaging with the problems faced by refugees is also very troubling. Having seen the pendulum swing back towards a more conservative government in Australia, there is a feeling of discouragement and dismay amongst those involved in the environmental and social justice movements that can be overwhelming if you aren’t feeling strong yourself.

Rather than brave this onslaught of seriousness head on, I decided to take a side track and read something by Joanna Macy. Joanna is an author involved in the movements for peace, justice and ecology who approaches her activism from a Buddhist perspective. I had tried to read one of her books before, but abandoned the attempt because I wasn’t ready for it, and found it too heavy. This time around I came across a new book “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone which provided some encouragement that its possible to use a spiritual foundation to steady yourself while facing up to some of the big issues of our time.

In Active Hope, the authors acknowledge that we are facing major problems due to increasing human population and patterns of excessive consumption which are overwhelming the resources available to us. Rather than being overwhelmed by discouragement, the book encourages us to act to bring about what we hope for, even while the future is uncertain and we don’t know what is possible. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”

One aspect of the book that I found helpful was the Three Stories of Our Time. The first is Business As Usual, which assumes that there isn’t a problem with the way we live.  This includes the belief that economic growth can go on forever without any consequesnces. The second story, The Great Unraveling, points out the disasters that Business as Usual is leading us towards by ignoring and abusing the finite resources available to us. It tells a story of the collapse of ecological systems, changes to climate, and the potentially disastrous consequences. The third story is “held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word”. The book is about how to get behind that third story and work towards a life sustaining civilisation.

This book was the right thing for me, because it acknowledges that we have a problem while offering a hopeful way to cope with the situation and be involved in working towards a positive outcome. Barraging people with frightening facts isn’t successful, because its just too much to take in. Most people, myself included, need a more positive picture that they can embrace that makes change seem not only necessary and possible, but desireable and meaningful.

P1060353I was in the tour bus at Werribee Zoo in Melbourne, driving through an open range area where the large animals roam. We could see other visitors staring in at us from the viewing area. The tour guide pointed to the human visitors and said “look, there’s another endangered species”. I don’t think he was joking. Jokes like that make me sad.

Its a weird feeling to be contemplating the future of humanity whilst going about my own form business as usual. I am enjoying the warm sunny days, knowing that it is not normally so hot this early in the Spring. Its hard to know what to think and how to respond. Yet it seems important to be open to what is going on around me, while at the same time remaining grounded and take care of myself through the process.

The Sound of Music was on of the first “grown up” movies that I saw as a child in the 1960s. I loved the first part, although I didn’t like it when the war started. The story took a sinister turn when Austrian Captain Von Trapp was under pressure to join the nazis. The Von Trapps had to flee the dangers of the nazi war machine by running over the alps to safety. The soaring Sound of Music theme tells us that that they will triumph over adversity.

In the movie its understood that the family needs to flee for their safety. Nobody accuses the Von Trapp family of invading Switzerland. They are not turned back at the border because the didn’t wait in line to get across. In World War II people had to escape danger by whatever means possible, whether that meant walking across mountains, jumping trains, or crowding into fishing vessels. They were allowed to enter safe havens and if necessary resettled in countries like the USA and Australia.

These days people fleeing persecution seek to enter Australia by boat. How to respond to these ‘Boat People’ is a contentious issue. Unlike the Von Trapps they are not bouyed up by a rousing swell of orchestral music indicating that all will be well. Although it is not illegal to seek asylum, there is some support in Australia for the strategy of turing back the boats, or detaining those who arrive in remote and inhospitable places for long periods of time while they are processed. It seems like the reasons that people are fleeing their homes today are not as clear in our hearts and minds as the reasons that people had to flee in old World War II movies.

However the power of music to communicate the essence of a story remains true today. Were You There?.. Giving Hope to Asylum Seekers is a moving video which encourages us to make a more compassionate response when people seek our help. It reminds us that we are all responsible for what takes place in our midst and in our name.

Sadly our new government wants to turn the boats away. I hope this video goes viral and gives them something to think about.

If you read a lot of lifestyle blogs like I do, I’m sure you have come across the word “passion” a few times. We are encouraged to “follow our passion” or if we don’t know what it is, to “find our passion”. People with multiple interests are encouraged to merge their many passions into one over-arching mega passion, or be dextrous multi-passionate plate spinners.

The idea of following a passion has certainly caught on in the collective imagination, with many people are getting out of their comfort zones (or discomfort zones) and pursuing what they are passionate about. This is exciting stuff; its energising to think that one really can live a passionate life.

Having said that I’m more of your moderate, middle of the road kind of personality. I have things that interest and concern me, but I try to keep calm about it. I don’t generally describe myself as passionate about things because I’m not an exuberantly emotional person.

I have been looking through the job ads for casual and part-time work, and this is given me cause to question the marketability of my tranquil nature. I have seen a few jobs that I might be interested in, but then I come across this requirement:

Must be passionate about …..

Hmm. So if I want a job as a casual sales assistant in an office supplies store, I need to be passionate about stationery. Really?

Now I must confess I do like stationery. I have been known to get excited about a matching set of six well made highlighter pens in pretty colours. I do get it, that people like stationery. But its not one of my life’s passions.

It seems that employers are also attracted to the passion principle, and are seeking staff with a passion for their products. But I wonder if passion really is an essential criteria for a successful working arrangement. A declaration of passion seems like a lot to ask for in a job application, particularly if is a role that doesn’t offer high pay or a long term commitment in return.

This puts me in a tricky position because if I am going to be passionate about anything its going to be a value or a principle, rather than a physical object. For example I could get passionate about “authenticity”. That’s inconvenient. It makes it difficult for me claim that I am passionate about pens and pencils.

Actually think I’d make a pretty good stationery store employee if what they are looking for is calm and friendly competence. But I can’t pretend to be what I’m not. I don’t want to fake an over-inflated enthusiasm I don’t feel and it bothers me that job applicants are put in the position of having to distort their personality to fit in with a narrow corporate culture.

So here’s my dilemma. If I am passionate about authenticity and honesty, then I’m going to be tempted to use my blog to holdup a mirror to the values of our culture. Thats going to mean writing blog posts that make it difficult to get a job in a chain store. Unless that chain store recognises that casual and part-time workers are there to fulfill a worthwhile purpose, but it’s not necessarily a life’s passion, and they’re going to bring their own personalities and interests with them.

Related Links:

Lorilee Lippincott on Passion and Purpose.

Participating in an election campaign is a great way to learn about how the democratic process works. Despite all the silliness and tomfoolery that goes on in the media around election time I still feel very lucky to live in a country where the democratic process works well.

For democracy to be effective, everybody has to “play nice” which means respecting each others right to hold and express opinions different from your own. Political assassinations, kidnappings, beatings, tear gas attacks and worse are obviously NOT playing nice. Fortunately in Australia its safe to hand out How to Vote cards or post political views on Facebook without fear of reprisals. I wish others around the world had this opportunity.

Standing outside the Early Voting Centre and handing out How to Vote Flyers means entering a microcosm of the political landscape. At the Centre I have been attending the people representing the different parties help each other pack up and carry the placards and boxes of flyers upstairs. The Electoral Commission who run the election allow us to keep our materials stored in their foyer, so we don’t have to carry it all back and forth every day. They also allow all the candidates to leave How to Vote Materials on a table near where people are voting so that they can access the information they need.

This basic level of cooperation is possible because there is adequate trust between parties and a shared commitment to a fair process on all sides. There has been a problem in the past with people trying to vote but using the wrong numbering method, in which case their vote does not count. Giving them access on information about how to vote according the recommendations of their preferred party serves a useful purpose because helps people have their say with a valid vote.

Early voting runs for three weeks before the election day and manning the polling booth during this time is a big effort, especially when so many people can’t help because they are at work. Representatives from the two major parties are out in force, and smaller parties sometimes have someone there when resources permit. Because their time is more flexible, retirees and students play a big role in doing the footwork in the lead up to the actual election day.

Although there is a very slight frisson of tension in the air, on the whole I have found there to be a good atmosphere amongst the people handing out How to Votes for the different parties. I try to keep things friendly, respectful and upbeat. The unaccustomed heat of the warm spring weather is making everyone sweat, and the setting sun is glaring in everyones eyes, regardless of their political affiliation.

What a bunch of characters we are. Some of us want to talk politics and engage in good natured stirring. Mostly its given and and taken with a smile. Now and then some of us grow weary of the unrelenting youthful arrogance of one character who just won’t give it a rest.

When its quiet I get roped into interesting side conversations that accidentally veer onto controversial topics. I want to say “Keep your voice down!” when people start loudly bagging out the opposition during our private conversation which is being held at full volume on the public footpath. Even so, the side talk is valuable.  I learn things I don’t know from political long timers who are happy to share their story about why they are there.

My favourite moment was when I arrived at the Voting Centre in the late afternoon to help out for an hour before closing. A lady from the party that was the furtherest from mine in outlook came up to me, welcomed me with a smile, and introduced herself. In many respects her conservative values reflect a very different outlook to my more progressive views. But we agree on one thing. Treating other people with a basic level respect and acceptance is how democracy should be done.

Australian Language Notes:

To be roped in = to be engaged in an activity by someone else on the spur of the moment
Bagging Out = Criticising
Stirring = stirring the pot, teasing. A great Australian passtime.
Give it a rest = Shut up. Stop going on about it.

Notes on Australian Language Notes:

Rather than neutralise or Americanise my vocabulary my policy is to write as I speak in the Australian vernacular and explain any terms that might not be familiar. Having said that, I don’t always know what is uniquely Australian English or for that matter UK English so its going to be pot luck on the definitions.

I’m not interested in politics. I’m not really a big picture person. As long as things are ticking along smoothly I’m happy for other people to handle the details of how the country is run. Fortunately I live in a country where democracy works well and I enjoy a peaceful and stable society in which I can pursue my own thing.

One reason I don’t like politics is that it tends to be negative and conflictual. I am not someone who enjoys a good argument. I my mind, there is no such thing as a good argument. Thats the nature of my personality. I tend to think  “everyone is entitled to their opinion”, and I don’t like to create tension by highlighting differences. However because I tend to hold minority views, I sometimes forget to include myself in the “everyone” who is entitled to an opinion, and keep mine hidden.

Although I am in an introspective phase personally, I do occasionally take a peep outside my bubble and there are wider issues that concern me.  I am not interested in the mechanics of politics, but I am interested in values and how they determine our behaviour collectively and individually. I have solved this conundrum by joining a “greenish” political party which aligns with my values, and then keeping my membership a secret. I am also on the mailing list for a variety of social action groups and sign my name to petitions for various causes, although I never take the next step of passing them on to my Facebook Friends.

In two weeks Australia will be holding a Federal Election which will determine our national government. It seems like political pendulum is swinging towards a more conservative government, and thats a concern for me because issues that I care about like social justice and protecting the environment are likely to suffer.

If the election is close, then the smaller parties could have a strong influence in policy formulation, and I would prefer that influence to be held by a party that advocates for the environment and tolerance of diversity. I am going to feel bad if Australia ends up with an ultra-conservative government and I did nothing to speak up for my point of view.

I have been asked to hand out “How to Vote” cards at polling booths. I sat on the request email for a few days unsure about how to respond. I don’t want to say Yes; I don’t want to say No. I want to use my influence on strangers, but I don’t want to put pressure on my friends and family.

Rather than adopting my usual strategy which is “when in doubt do nothing” I have decided to do the smallest active thing I can possibly do and see how that goes. So I am planning to try handing out How to Votes at the pre-election polling booth and see what it feels like. Then I can decide if I want to do it on the main polling day.

I am still researching material on muliti-potentialites, scanners and renaissance souls ie those of us who have a variety of interests and like to move between them. People with this tendency often want to try things out and see how they feel before committing to a course of action. We tend to get very involved in things for a time, but then move on to other interests. What I am learning is that you don’t have to be the backbone of an organisation or the leader of a social movement to be able to make a significant contribution at a critical time. I am thinking that maybe I can engage in two weeks of my own style of political activity leading up to the election, then shift my attention back to other concerns.

My own style of politics is still forming, but I think it would be characterised by thinking out loud and allowing others to do the same. This gives me a little more scope for expressing my concerns, so that at least others know what I think and I am taking some responsibility for shaping the values that drive my community.