Forest Dweller Portrait: David Suzuki

David Suzuki is 74 years old. He recently quit his Foundation in order to better be able to speak the truth. Listen to his message here:

An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future

This is the voice of a well developed Forest Dweller. He is the voice of what needs to be said. He is an Elder who has accepted the role. David Suzuki is someone who embodies generativity.

A quick bio from Wikipedia: David Suzuki, was a professor in the genetics department at the University of British Columbia from 1963 until his retirement in 2001. Since the mid-1970s, Suzuki has been known for his TV and radio series and books about nature and the environment. He is best known as host of the popular and long-running The Nature of Things, seen in over forty nations. A long time activist to reverse global climate change, Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, to work “to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us.” The Foundation’s priorities are: oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and Suzuki’s Nature Challenge.


The Forest Dweller’s Mission: Tikkun olam

In my ongoing exploration of Forest Dwellers, I find there is a tension between the urge to go within and attend to the spiritual journey, or the inner life and the persistent throb of knowing that my engagement in the world is critical. And so is yours.

We are in strange times. Hard times.  We live in a culture of fear that has anesthetized itself with material gain, social media, idolized Hollywood and forgotten most of the world. As a result, our country is the one that refuses to sign the Law of the Sea and most climate change or environmental pacts because we are afraid of losing our benefits.  We would rather double wrap everything in plastic than to even consider seriously as a society how to change that.

Now, go back and look at those last few sentences and tell me where you can even utter them without losing your own focus to distraction or someone chiding you. Yet—it is true. So that little creature…the one who had the honesty and courage to utter the truth goes underground, confused.  Try to imagine people deeply listening, contributing their own wisdom and then making a plan of action together. That nearly impossible scenario would make all the difference, and you would not only change the world, but you also heal the your own heart.

However, we don’t live in that world.  We live in a world of constant motion and much distraction.  The emphasis is on either chillin’ or getting ahead.  But there is another path, and one that I am trying to keep and grow in my own life. Activism. I have learned (after many years) that I can’t save the world. Bummer. I really wanted to. But I can help repair the world. Do my part.

From Wikipedia: Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world” (or “healing and restoring the world”) which suggests humanity’s shared responsibility (with the Creator) “to heal, repair and transform the world.”

I think that’s what Forest Dwellers are about. Not to save the world. But to do what we need to do, both in our inner spheres and do our part to repair the world.

Spotlight on Wangari Maathai. She was the founder of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement and she was 64 when she became the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Her simple message was that tree planting is a social act that restores both the land and communities and counters climate change and drought. Wangari Maathai said: “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”

The Green Belt Movement, following that simply profound concept, has planted over 40 milling trees in Kenya.

Yes, I want the inner life. It’s important that I attend to my soul. But I hear the call of Wangari Maathai and I cannot say no. Somehow, I will balance that tension and do both.

“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own — indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.” Wangari Maathai


Growing Our Souls

“These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that despite the powers and principalities bent on commodifying all our human relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew.”


When I first heard Grace Lee Boggs, I was rooted to the spot, unable to move away from the radio. Her cheerful, strong 95 year old voice answered all the questions Tavis Smiley and Cornell West could muster. I’d never heard anyone talk about growing a soul or give such credence to imagining new ideas for our world. And the WAY she talks. “We have reached a time on the clock of the world where we need to make a new beginning, a paradigm shift in almost everything thing that we do.” I had my paper and pencil out– scribbling notes like a reporter, hardly daring to breathe lest I miss something. I know we need to create a new world order—I know it in every part of my mind, heart and body. And it all depends on our souls, Grace says, a power that can “make a way out of no way.” Smiley and West, — like me,sometimes look out at the current situation and only see how grave it is. And it is grave. Still, as Grave Lee Boggs says “the devastation opens the way.”

When they persisted with their questions, she retorted (kindly) “don’t preoccupy yourself with ‘them’. When you are preoccupied with the negative, you can’t see the positive that is exploding all around you. The negative is a challenge to create new positives.” Wow. Now that’s a fully realized Forest Dweller. She gives you an idea of how incredible it could be of Boomers were to stop worrying about their portfolios and numbers and start working on their souls.

ImageForest Dwellers, by definition, are aging. Those days when I could party, study or create all night and then work all day and do it time after time are gone. I am learning “chi running” because the bounce of regular running is too hard on my body. The signs of age 61 are upon me though my internal age varies between 16 and 50. It is a question that wants to be answered. If I am past my physical and mental prime, what is my path now?

Grace Lee Boggs answers me. What we can do is– grow our souls. That is the Forest Dweller task. It is everyone’s task but it belongs especially to this stage of life. From taking care of our parents, we see what the Renunciate stage looks like. It shimmers in the future, this specter of our lives to come. But it also reminds us that we are not there yet. Our children have gone from the Student to the Householder stage. We Forest Dwellers can inhabit each one of these stages at anytime—allowing Beginner’s Mind to let us be students again, learning the ropes of being a Householder in different circumstances, renouncing aspects of career, relationships, material goods and ambition. Through all of those steps, we can grow our souls.

And always, we come back to the Forest Dweller perspective, this longing to focus on the deep center of our being before it is too late. ImageThose little wake up calls we get from the Universe remind us that the clock is ticking and at the end of the journey, the inner garden is the one we will harvest, not the outer accoutrements.

I will come back to the last post about Nawang Khechog tomorrow. Sometimes blogging turns out to be like surfing the internet. You start with one idea and end up with another. Once I got my teeth into Grace Lee Boggs, I couldn’t let go. Check the grand lady out, she is pretty damn magnificent.

Forest Dwellers, Loving Kindness and Soul Wealth

I’m a thinker. That certainly doesn’t mean I am smarter than the average person.  But I do think a lot, and it is not repetitive drama very often. It is how I make sense of the world; through a larger mind than my brain, organizing the bits and pieces of information it has and assembling them into meaning. I make order out of thinking and writing. So when Nawang Khechog explained Analytical Meditation, it caught my attention.

Most of the mediation we associate with Buddhism is Single Point mediation. To explain the difference, Nawang said to imagine milk. If you are making yogurt, you add the enzymes and then it must be left alone, and through that stillness comes yogurt. But you can also churn the milk to make butter. Nawang calls this “wisdom storming” and his eyes twinkle as he says it. “I made these words up,” he says, with his remarkable, inclusive laugh. Wisdom storming is like brain storming but you call in all the best wisdom you have access to.  

Tibetan Buddhism considers the innate nature of human to be one that doesn’t want suffering and wants happiness. True for you? Analytical Meditation would say:

1-I want to be free of suffering.

2-I appreciate people who are kind/compassionate/loving to me.

3-All humans are the same.

4-Therefore all want to be free of suffering and all want kindness and compassion.

5-Therefore, I should strive not to make others suffer and to give them kindness and compassion.

The same mediation would lead us to the same conclusions with all sentient beings. We arrive at the truth of what is being chanted, said, written by our own logic.

Outrageous. How will you ever get ahead with such notions? What about people who are mean to you? The marketplace doesn’t give a hoot about this kindness stuff. People will take me to be weak. Etc.

So don’t consider this from any other perspective other than your deathbed. Mostly likely you are totally dependent on the compassion of others, just as when you were born. When my mom was in this stage of her life, she was poor in friends and loving family. She’d spent a lifetime being self focused and hadn’t noticed what that led to. She did observe the value of money, as most of us do, but she failed to see the wealth and value of friends and that love, compassion and kindness attract the same to themselves. The warm-hearted accumulate soul wealth as surely as the frugal or ambitious accumulate material wealth. It is a different kind. But it is the kind you can take with you.

Time for a laugh. Nawang would find a way to lighten this up. I am still learning, so I will simply laugh at myself, as he does himself. We are all just learning. But it is a conscious decision to choose this path. It is the hardest thing in the world. It is exceedingly simple and logical. It benefits you and all sentient beings at the same time. It is a lifetime practice.

More to come on this.

Forest Dwellers and Loving Kindness

This weekend I was reminded of the transitory nature of life. What? Doesn’t sound like a normal conversation you hear in America? I know.

I started my journey by ferry through exquisite island scenery and landed just 40 minutes away from home on Orcas Island. There, I went on pilgrimage to my 5th year at Indralaya. This leads me to one of the most important DIY tenets:  To deepen the sense of your own life, go on pilgrimage. I arrived confused by people and worn down by bureaucracy. I knew nothing about the speaker. I only knew it was a beautiful camp that I dearly loved, with a small cabin that would be mine alone to roam, and that the theme was “Awakening Kindness”. Right? That much would be enough. And did I mention the wonderful vegetarian food?

The speaker was Nawang Khechog, a Tibetan musician who now lives in Colorado, and who studied as a monk for 11 years, 7 of which were as a hermit. So, my theme is out of the box aging and becoming a Forest Dweller and his is that kindness, compassion and love are the “jewels of the universe”. I know that the measure of my life is more than the work I have performed, and I hope it is more than what my increasingly forgetful brain can hold. I am on task to grow my soul. That is what my purpose is now.

Nawang speaks gently, reminding us that everything changes; each cause and condition create the next change. He asks us to deepen our hearts in this wisdom so that we are not surprised and confused when it happens. Aging will happen. Translate “I am getting old” to “if I am lucky enough, I’ll be a graceful old man/woman.”

“We have come to be in the mandala of kindness,” Nawang says in a voice so quiet I had to still my own breath to hear. “We are gathered to nurture our heart.” The heart needs to be warm, you see. The warm-hearted are benefitted with being inspired, uplifted and rejuvenated.

On that first night, my thoughts about Forest Dwellers settled into a deeper understanding. We have to be wise and strong…and humble… to adopt love and kindness and compassion as our creed. The strength of the heart will keep us from being easily discouraged.  Loving all species that share this planet is not naive. It is wise. We do not lose beauty, we transform it by becoming more loving and kind and compassionate on the inside. Then, as Nawang says, “our wrinkles become like the painting of a great artist”.

If you are like me, you might think this seems like such a long way away, to aspire to live in such a space. I can’t help but want it now (read American).  But “spiritual progress takes time” Nawang said, and having said it, he rocked back and laughed. It is funny. Does it make sense to try to do this crazy thing in a world of competition and one-upmanship? Answer that by looking at our world. Which one is crazy?

I will explore this further in the next few entries.