January is, for me, a time for reflection and promises — thoughts on the year passing and promises for the future. This year, reflection has been sadly influenced by catastrophic and painful life events: ongoing worldwide economic distress, joblessness, increasing disparity between rich and poor, Hurricane Sandy, the tragic and senseless murders in Newtown, Conn., the “fiscal cliff,” and an obscene frenzy of political spending on an election that makes us all wonder how that money could have been better spent.
The U.S. has just experienced the hottest year on record, and thousands of farmers continue to suffer the consequences of drought across our nation. Wars continue throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and “drug wars” continue in Central America and on the streets of major U.S. cities. We are bombarded with stories of gang rape in Ohio and India.
Our human family and our Earth are in big trouble. This trajectory of human existence is unsustainable, and our world, as we know it, is dying. It is time for hospice.
As a hospice physician, I can embrace this image, as it allows me to search for meaning and hope in what is ending. This leads me to feel that we are living in a time of great potential if we are willing to look with our hearts and souls into the depths of our culture, examine our assumptions, our beliefs and our dreams and envision a different world.
While we all resolved on New Year’s eve to spend more time with our families, fit in fitness, stop smoking, argue less with our spouse and be on time for meetings, I propose that most of these resolutions are too small. I suggest that we should be really resolving to create a more just, sustainable and spiritually fulfilling presence on the planet.
OK, I can hear the roar of laughter or snickers from those who think I am a deluded, pot-smoking hippie. But this is the mission of an organization called The Pachamama Alliance, which is a partnership between the Achuar and other indigenous people of the rainforest of Ecuador and Peru and the developed world.
The Achuar are a “dream culture” in which the shamans and elders share their dreams and visions. In the 1990s they began to share a common dream of the end of their world. In their dreams they saw that the only way to save their world from destruction was for the eagle (representing the scientific and technologic modern society) and the condor (representing their natural world) to “fly together.” They saw the only hope was to reach out to us, the “people of the North.”
Though traditionally private and hostile to outside visitors, they invited a group of Americans to help them. But in their reaching out they gave instructions to their partners to “go back to your country and change the dream of the North.”
In the ensuing years, The Pachamama Alliance has worked around the globe to change awareness of the self-destructive forces that we mindlessly embrace in our daily lives. I was introduced to the group’s work three years ago by accident — are there any accidents? — and subsequently traveled to the rainforest to meet the Achuar deep in the Amazon jungle and to learn from them.
The experience was transformative. Returning to the U.S., I resolved to do my part to awaken “my people” to the numbing effect of our cultural experiences that is leading us all to a path of destruction. In my own personal life I resolved to reduce waste, examine what were my “needs” versus my “wants,” to slow the relentless dash for “more, bigger, better” and to give voice to my hopes for the future.
But real success depends on our entire culture shifting. And it is happening now in Maine and around the country. While corporations still propose massive projects such as the east-west highway and more oil pipelines with the promise of prosperity and jobs, people are questioning the unexamined assumptions of this model and are holding the projects up to a different candle of environmental protection, social benefit and quality of life enhancement.
There has been an increase in local food cooperatives, transition towns and car-free village projects. We see the birth of a new culture of sufficiency, community and caring for the planet.
So this New Year, my resolution is to work hard to “hospice” our current world-vision to its natural death and to “midwife” the birth of a socially just, environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling presence on the planet. I am exhilarated and hopeful, despite the news reports.
To find out more and to awaken your own hopeful change-energy, attend the “Awakening the Dreamer Symposium” from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 15, and the “Getting into Action Workshop,” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 16, in Dover-Foxcroft. For information, call 992-6822 or go to www.pachamama.org/workshops.
Dr. Lesley Fernow, of Dover-Foxcroft, is a practicing internist and geriatrician and a member of the Pachamama Alliance.