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How are we to live?

Updated: Jun 30

~by Joyce Herman, July 2024



A group recently gathered in the Bhakti Barn in Macedon, a sacred space one of our Pachamama Alliance of the Rochester Area sisters has created for connecting with Mother Earth, for dancing, and for life-affirming rituals and celebrations. The uplifting tone and content generated a powerful sense of what it’s like to be in loving community as we seek to find our way in these uncertain times. Pachamama’s Seeds of Hope series on Sunday afternoons has expanded our hearts and vision with a similar message.


We have shared these loving connections online and in person as one way of responding to the unthinkable. Making deep connections to other humans and to the earth are powerful antidotes to hopelessness and despair in the face of environmental and societal collapse.  


From this place of hope and community, I ask myself: How can I hold on to the vision and promise of Pachamama while looking unflinchingly at the very real threats to life as we know it?  How do I, how do we, live in a way that allows us to be spiritually connected to the earth and a larger and deeper reality, and still pay attention to the practical “on the ground” concerns that demand our attention and action? 


More specifically, what do we do about the upcoming election?


I find myself remembering the words of my dear friend and ally, Uta Allers, who was born in Germany during World War II. In a podcast she and I created in 2021 “The German and the Jew #2”, she lamented how the German people followed Hitler into the abyss as if he were the Pied Piper. He played a script that fed into their sense of victimization and promised a return to a ‘superior’ status.   She now says, “When an autocrat tells you what he will do when he comes to power, believe him.  And think very carefully about what this will mean.”


For a similar message from a noted historian, see Timothy Snyder in Resources below.


Our electoral system, with its macabre warren of financing, is corruptive.  It advances the most selfish, greed-based interests in opposition to the earth and the life-affirming values that our Pachamama family in the Amazon have called us to return to. 


Yet that electoral system is what we have to deal with now. The choices we have are the cards we have been dealt. 


Aurora Levins Morales, a writer with a clear and iconoclastic progressive voice, says the US Left has to acknowledge we do not have any candidate who will really take the kind of action we need to avert climate catastrophe or who will stop wars and genocide.  At this point we are choosing which candidate offers us the best chance post-election to still be able to have our voices heard and engage in a democratic struggle for the issues we care about.  


Morales holds that when a candidate is “openly headed toward fascism … we can assume that he will do his best to demolish civil liberties, labor rights and free speech, will massively increase climate risk, support the white supremacist Christian right to eliminate sexual, gender and reproductive rights and all discussion of racism, purge if not entirely dismantle higher education, outlaw protests, and empower his armed thugs to violently enforce his will. If he wins, we will be fighting under much worse conditions for our movements, fighting on a lot of extremely difficult fronts at once, and be in a much worse position to exert pressure for any of our causes…”   


Although as a Puerto Rican she cannot vote in Presidential elections, she urges voters to back a candidate who can win who will be the best one we can pick our fights with later, knowing that there will still be possibilities. 


Whatever happens, we need enough structures left to fight another day.


The Pachamama message says we CAN take BOLD practical steps toward the future we want and still tend to our souls. Some suggestions:


  • Connect with nature every day.  If it’s not possible to do so —find a way to be grounded in the mystery of nature, e.g. examine a leaf or flower in great detail, look at photos of nature. Take slow deep breaths and remember that plants around us and around the world make that breath possible.

  • Limit the duration and the kind of news you watch and hear.  Choose how and when you get the information, rather hearing a steady drumbeat at the whim of those who want to keep us agitated… and buying their stuff.

  • Listen well and lovingly to friends and family about their concerns, and set up opportunities to be listened to yourself, without interruption or judgment or “fixing.”

  • Recognize that some groups will be more at risk than others as things collapse. Find ways to be an ally to people in those groups.

  • If part of a targeted group, refuse to be separated from other groups despite the pull to separate and blame.  Recognize the tactic of an oppressive society is “divide and conquer,” setting liberation movements against one another so they can’t succeed. There is no “us and them.” There is only “us.” 


If we follow the Pachamama way — taught to us by the indigenous people — we will fight against separation and choose connection, empathy and love for mother earth and one another. And we will act in community.


Community doesn’t just happen. 


Our community is only sustained by our action, as individuals and jointly with others. After World War II, Hannah Arendt put it this way, “Without action, without the capacity to start something new and thus articulate the new beginning that comes into the world with the birth of each human being, the life of man spent between birth and death would indeed be doomed beyond salvation.… Action, with all its uncertainties, is like an ever-present reminder that men, … are not born in order to die but in order to begin something new." 


Thus, even as conditions are constantly changing, and the future is unknowable, it does not take away from the fact that our actions matter. As Howard Zinn says: “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”  


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 Resources


  • ***Highly recommended: Ken Burns Commencement Speech 2024 Brandeis University especially starting at 10 minutes, but all of it is remarkable.  

  • Timothy Snyder, in his column,  Thinking about… quotes from his book On Tyranny: “The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”  

  • On Our Belonging to Each Other, The On Being Project.  

  • Western States Center Based in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States, Western States Center works nationwide to build a future where all people can live, love, worship, and work free from bigotry and fear. Since 1987 WSC programs have lifted up the voices of marginalized communities while providing accessible tools and support for grassroots organizing, civic engagement, and collective action. Its work has resulted in concrete policy and institutional changes across the West and beyond.  

  • Brennan Center For Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute, striving to uphold the values of democracy.  

  • Letters From An American by Heather Cox Richardson To understand the present, we have to understand how we got here. She is a professor of American history who writes a daily newsletter, available on Substack and Facebook, which chronicles the day’s political landscape, and which provides the context of American history, including the Constitution, and laws, and the economy, and social customs, to explore what it means, and what it has meant, to be an American.  

  • Braver Angels is leading the nation’s largest cross-partisan, volunteer-led movement to bridge the partisan divide. As we head into the election, we’re bringing together “We the People” to find a hopeful alternative to toxic politics. The American Hope campaign is equipping Americans across the political spectrum to work together and demand the same of politicians from both parties.

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Thank you, Joyce, for the link to Ken Burns’ speech at Brandeis.  He is wonderfully an optimist, at this time of all times.

Love, Pat Willis

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