When All the Crazy Bits Come Together

freeimages.com/Billy Alexander

Sometimes everything in life seems to coalesce into a coherent whole for just a moment, before spiraling back out into its random, free association, flow of events.

In the last 24 hours, I got a glimpse of that sync.

For a long time, the Food System, or the Food Security Movement has had my attention. It means for me, I eat a substantially more whole food, vegetarian, chemical free diet. And, I am engaged so that option remains possible even if it’s not yet a priority of governments or industrial agriculture.

It started when I was a college student in New Mexico. I was surrounded by people who got serious about their food. One of my housemates read John Robbins’ “Diet for a Small Planet” and passed it around. I didn’t care about food that much. But sharing a house and grocery bills with these guys, we soon figured out that eating well with seven of us, wasn’t that much more costly than eating poorly alone. My parents who fed us well with rules like limited sugar, almost no soda, fresh fruit daily, and fresh salad on the table every night, couldn’t afford other fresh vegetables in my traditional childhood family of 5 kids, one salaried adult father, and a stay-at-home Mom. Yet, when I stopped eating frozen and canned vegetables, I discovered their real taste, and I loved it.

My housemates got serious. One of them became a farmer once back in West Virginia. Another “extended” housemate, a friend who was there so much he did live in our household, helped write some of the earliest organic produce laws in New Mexico and Washington DC. Another close friend of ours was part of producing a movie on natural healing. That led to a seed cooperative that would become one of the first organic seed collectives in the Southwest.

Because of this exposure, the summer I graduated from college, I “radically” earned my living as a home gardener. I took a job tending a small garden for a elderly woman who had recently lost her husband. Within a week, I was hired by three more widows to tend their well-established gardens. Then, I was hooked. I learned so much, and found such connection with the fruit, flowers, veggies and soil, almost even the worms, I became committed to good, healthy living and chemical free growing.

But back to yesterday…

So, I started my day off helping a friend. She’s an educator and chef, who put her two loves together into a small business teaching kids healthy food cooking classes. She was writing a grant proposal for job creation in low-income communities in Northern California. Her vision was first, to give people yoga-based stress and trauma reduction training; then, to offer a “Food and Healthy Living” small business incubator for new entrepreneurs. The food system is one of the most important and rapidly changing global social economic sectors. It holds great potential to seed needed positive change, especially for employment challenged urban areas. The team hammered out a motivating vision to help people tap some of these opportunities.

As soon as that discussion was over, I realized I had yet to join in on my latest “Sustainable Development Education Network” MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): “Transforming Development: The Science and Practice of Resilience Thinking”. The course is concept introduction, not college level programming with mastery of applications, but it still takes a commitment. I engage in such classes to keep on top of new ideas for making a more sustainable and green world. Resilience Thinking is all about solving problems at their real roots, not just where we think we see them. It’s about building systems so flexible and dynamic they can face shocks and surprises. We can be ready to adapt or transform them as needed, even if it redefines our notions of sustainable. After I finished the first lesson, I forwarded the enrollment information to about 10 friends, in different professional fields, in 4 countries, including my friend writing the grant proposal.

The overview of the program in the first module drums up a lot of ideas. A main point was the critical importance of food systems policy in our global planning models. Climate, water, energy, land use, and oceans are all facing crisis level challenges and significant impact from our current food systems. Another idea was how gender perception and integration contribute to a healthy planet, good governance, and solid economies. They showed how watching complex systems overtime reveals assumptions that require us to rethink and realign our development planning within Nature, and why that serves all of us. Human beings are now the greatest impacting population on Earth and if we don’t get it right, we won’t be able to survive here much longer. Over the next 30 years development has to transform for life as we know it to continue to exist.

We all know this if we watch a tv, pick up a newspaper, or check the news on our phones or tablets. Whether we look at climate change and disease control, or election corruption and internet crime, or farm legislation and soil degradation and ocean acidification, we can see big systems growing bigger, leading to unforeseen vulnerabilities in other systems, or even to collapse. When you dig into any of it, human beings’ behaviors are behind it.

This began five hundred years ago, when a few thinkers got the idea humans, armed with science, were the next Gods. Sir Francis Bacon believed we could harness Nature, soon dominate, and no longer live in fear. He was followed by Rene Descartes and the other Empiricists for another 150 years. They were right in some ways: medicine, transportation, engineering have accelerated human endeavor while mostly improving quality of life. But the arrogance with which they arrived at these realizations was palpable. There was a reasonable reactivity against religion in those times. Yet, in the last century, in the continued battles surrounding religion, societies became so secularized, they are ripping apart for lack of common value systems. I suspect the Empiricists would find the ethics vacuum and religious wars of the last thirty years stunning, and arising from a very unscientific worldview.

Our challenge now is to move beyond these problems. The minds behind the MOOC, the team at the Stockholm Resilience Center, are working with determination on finding a way out; to leave a tested framework to anticipate, build sustainable redundancies, and survive the Social-Ecological Systems changes coming in the next 100 years. Faced with their efforts, finding something meaningful to add to the conversation is a challenge. One built into the course: participation in the online discussions forum is a mandatory part of the program.

Then, this morning, someone sent me a podcast from For Food’s Sake. It’s about the development model in practice in India at the Art of Living Foundation. The global organization has grown all its social programs on a similar approach: if you help people manage their minds they will be happier, make better choices, (as balanced brains are more effective) and have more energy to make the changes necessary for everyone to do well. How? With Yoga-based techniques (postures or asanas, breathing techniques or pranayama, and meditation or dhyana). I have been practicing and teaching Art of Living’s techniques for close to 30 years now. They make a difference. That’s how I got pulled into the conversation about the grant program.

I have seen Art of Living projects in multiple countries. Before we inspire people to improve their communities, we first teach them breathing techniques and meditation. Research has indicated that Yoga techniques help individuals, but when practiced in groups, they also create greater coherence. Violence reduces, well-being improves. It’s theorized based on science that group meditation changes collective outcomes and can lead to more peaceful, coherent localities. My experience is anecdotal, but I have learned to start volunteer meetings with a few minutes of meditation, because I have seen they finish in less time with less dissent when we do.

Thanks to “For Food’s Sake” host Matteo DeVos sharing on his podcast about this unique approach to development, I had something to to share with my 2000 classmates. Yoga techniques can be a part of not only serious development work, but a game changer anywhere “buy in” matters. That doesn’t mean you’ll never face obstacles or outright failures, but Yoga helps us flow through challenges more smoothly. It teaches us to be present with shocks and surprises more easily, or at least more quickly. We tap our nervous systems’ inbuilt capacity to move beyond stress and back into the present moment. Meditation is at the heart of human resilience, helping us embody it in our own lives. My diverse interests in food, the natural world, community service and engagement, and development which led me to the MOOC, all grew formidably with my practice of meditation.

So in the last 24 hours, for a change, all the different crazy bits, including writing this post, came together. There is a sync; and we get a glimpse of it once in a while; and for a moment, our whole world makes sense.

Those moments keep me going, no matter how crazy it all seems.

Originally published at tot2m-space.nanciediwellness.com on May 28, 2018.

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