The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

“I hate my life.” The words tumbled from my 11-year old son’s mouth like gravel through the gate of a dump truck. As I turned the car onto Winnemac Avenue, he sat silently in the passenger seat, awaiting my response. “I know,” I finally said. He went on to share that he missed his mother and stepmother, both of whom were always working, that school was stupid, and that “you [Dad] are always distracted.”

It was a true statement. I had been distracted for months, really years. My attention was constantly bouncing between work, community, family, and other responsibilities, all with the best of intentions. “This shouldn’t be happening,” I thought. I was giving my attention to what I value, including him. But I also knew that I, too, was not that far from hating my own life.

In 1971, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan started researching human motivations and needs. Eventually their work, with the help of many others, would lead to the recognition that there are three core human psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This periodical chart of human well-being, now called Self-Determination Theory, has been cited more than 13,000 times in the last fifteen years.

Even without the map of this knowledge, it seemed like I had been following a path toward well-being. I owned a business doing work that I enjoyed. I was active, healthy, and surrounded by whole-hearted friends and family. I was deeply connected to community. As much as I loved the people and events that filled my days, life was far too much about the clock and the calendar.

I had been caught in the addiction of addition – tallying more and more connections, opportunities, and activities. Some of these efforts were dedicated to maintaining a healthy business, community, or relationship. Beyond what was necessary, I was loyal to this mathematical myth. In order to “make it,” in order to have an impact, in order to find peace, I needed to keep pushing harder and further. Even though I cherished lying on the couch with my wife, or our meditation practice, I was filling each hole with a possibility or a commitment. I was very busy thinking, planning, rushing from one place and task to another. Most people would respect the juggling act as “doing something with my life,” but I was growing simultaneously weary and stressed.

The city is full of people like this, a blend of frantic achievers and people working three jobs to pay the rent. The result is an energy of frenetic seeking and frenzied survival. People are struggling for capitalist supremacy, for social status, to discover themselves, or to simply stay alive. Everyone is busy doing, and I was among them. I had started to feel less space to just be.

I was striving for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, but too often settling for a shallow version of the real thing. It is deep in our western, and especially urban, heritage that autonomy means financial freedom, competence is accomplished through a career, and relatedness is the number of friends, or even Facebook friends, that one has. It is measurable and therefore comparable. In many ways, it is the American dream.

Even if I believed I was not adopting this vision, its ethos of accomplishment was sneaking its way into priorities and decisions. I do want financial security, a fulfilling vocation, and close relationships, but I was starting to acknowledge that the pace and fervor of pursuit were not going to lead me to some promised land of well-being. I wanted out.

Six weeks after my son released his gravelly pronouncement, I pulled an old copy of Sam Keen’s The Passionate Life from the bookshelf. For a couple nights I read passages to my wife around the fire, feeling energized as our conversations started to shift from managing the present to imagining a future that was much different. For the first time in my adult life, I was ready to consider leaving the city.


Though my life and work had largely been about connectedness, I was feeling more and more disconnected. George Monbiot calls this “The Age of Loneliness.”

We have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

My wife and I love nature. We were married in a forest clearing, and have always been able to reconnect by the water, or in the woods, on a camping trip or hike. My son, however, is a city kid who tends to like controlled environments without bugs.

To watch him at his computer is to watch a pilot in the cockpit of a 787, checking his gauges on ten different tabs at once, communicating with teams and collaborators at a dizzying pace, taking a class, building a server, and responding to alerts left and right. His web is deeply personal, going back and forth between chat platforms, forums, and multi-player games. He has more Skype contacts in more corners of the world than I do.

I understand this level of stimulation, the desire to find a tribe, become proficient at something, and experience the thrill of a full dashboard of options which I can seemingly control. When he’s sitting at his computer, he’s not only the pilot, he’s a god creating his own reality.

I didn’t know how to tell him that I’m sensing we all need to connect in a different way, to leave behind these tiresome cycles of working, buying, doing, and with so much of it mediated through a screen. Andrew Sullivan writes in New York Magazine:

I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.

Never before have we attempted to meet our essential psychological needs through devices. It is not the wires, cables, and satellites that connect us. The air, the water, the common elements and non-elemental bonds we share have always been there, waiting for us to re-member, to accept our membership in life itself.

So, one month ago we moved to a small town in a house on the edge of a nature preserve. There are trees, critters, and water all around us. The night soundscape of sirens has been replaced by crickets and frogs. It’s a grand experiment.

Even with the slower pace, our lives are still too full. There have been moments of true rest and delight, but still plenty of frenzy. It’s not nirvana; it’s a process. The boy is not as excited as I am about fungi and foxes, but he’s adjusting. A few nights ago he pointed out the number of stars in the sky. We have more time together, some of it unbound by the ticking clock.

Cities, consumerism, technology, and the pace of life may be impacting our well-being but are not preventing it. As a wise man told me recently, “The thing is never the problem. The problem is our relationship to the thing.” Not everyone needs a geographic downshift.

We do need a new economy, a more natural pace of life, and an evolved relationship with technology. But the deepest form of relatedness does not need to be sought. You just open to it. The connection is always there.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine.

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A Wildly Inclusive “We”


Our systems are broken. From economics to education to government, there is widespread agreement that the structures we have created are not working for most people. With smoldering anger beginning to flame, we want someone to blame.

Who is ultimately responsible?

We crave villains. Our wishes are granted by the faces on our screens, emails in our inboxes, and the pronouncements from soap boxes everywhere. We gather, shake our fists, and agree upon the source of evil. It feels good, for a time, because we connect through establishing a common enemy.

We demand victims and heroes, surrogates for our pain and desire for freedom. The media exploits this Drama Triangle: Hate the bad guys. Weep for the victims. Cheer for the heroes. We cannot just blame the media. We are the media. The media is us.

I am completely uncomfortable with this perspective. There are real victims, real heroes, and real evil in the world. People are harmed in subtle and tragic ways every day in every culture. Billions of people devote their lives to family, justice, and wellbeing. But conveniently simplifying the madness and injustice of this world into a triangular equation is bad math.

Fritjof Capra writes, “The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.” Not only are the problems interconnected and interdependent, so are we. You don’t need to believe in the butterfly effect to grasp that we cannot escape the systems we live in. We are in the systems. We are the systems.

What if I am partially responsible for the rise in mass shootings, though I do not own a gun? What if I have played a part in one in six women being sexually assaulted, even though I am a feminist? What if I have contributed to the quadrupling of people incarcerated in America in the last thirty years? What if I am responsible for the waters of this planet being dammed, polluted, and poisoned?

In Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons, the enigmatic monk Tikhron says to the guilt-laden Stavrogin, “In sinning each man sins against all, and each man is at least partly guilty for another’s sin. There is no isolated sin.”

On the right, we have people upholding the importance of “individual responsibility.” On the left, we have people fighting for “collective responsibility.” What if they are both equally valid? I am responsible. We are responsible. I am a part of we.

I am still uncomfortable. It is easier for me to live with “They,” not “We” and “I.”

“The whole world is filled with all these horrors. But you have felt the whole depth of it.” This is the compassionate statement of Tikhron when Stavrogin confesses to the monk that he has taken advantage of an 11 year old girl, leading to her suicide.

If I can sense my own interconnectedness, then I can feel into the impact of any injustice. They are not just harming them. We are harming us. This shift, as well, is so difficult because I fear that life will be only suffering as I experience the world suffering. I already feel guilty for not having done enough. How could I possibly feel more?

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering,” writes Parker Palmer. Perhaps we need more connection to suffering. Perhaps my intellectualization of the issues, my avoidance of the pain, are attempts to escape this suffering. Who could blame me? We have so much access to others’ pain.

It is not only people that suffer, but other living beings as well whose perspective is often overlooked. As novelist and essayist Chinua Achebe writes, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Gus Speth is a US advisor on climate change. He writes,

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”

Perhaps the embrace of our interconnectedness, the opening to suffering, the allowance to feel, is one of the seeds of this transformation.

We need people on the streets, in the corridors of power, and voices in public and private venues speaking boldly about the injustices of our time. We need people to resist, to educate, and to spread compassion.

But perhaps we also need to open wider and deeper, to the water, to the “other,” to the wildly inclusive “we,” and trust that we can make space for all that is there. I also know that in opening to suffering, we open more to joy.

I do not want more suffering in the world. Therefore I am willing to suffer, not as a martyr, but as a participant in the transformation.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine.

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“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”

Alfred Austin

I long for days when the porcelain sink briefly turns brown as I wash my hands.  Spending so much time in the world of ideas and people, sometimes I crave the earth. Admittedly, I think too much. Soil is a good antidote.

This year it is tomatoes, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, fennel, onion, and chives growing in our 6′ x 8′ plot. I don’t garden for the fruit or the herbs, as superior as they may be to the market varieties. I go to the garden because it restores me. It’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself, as Alice Sebold has written.

Before the first frost last year, we brought in a tomato plant that was still fruiting in hopes that it would survive even a month longer. The freshness of the smell was a delight for a few hours. Then the next morning, I awoke to wilted leaves and limp stems. There was talk of buying a grow light for the winter, but perhaps there is a season for growth and a season of waiting.

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”

May Sarton

I have been feeling uneasy with the pace of life recently. As much as I want to have an impact on my family, community, and business, I am questioning how much time and energy are spent running from one virtuous commitment to another.

I walk by the garden at least once a day, checking for pests, pulling a weed, or pinching a runt or two. It is a care-ful act. I become attuned to creating space for growth.

Observing, weeding, pruning, and feeding – this is the work of life.

“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense. ‘Green fingers’ are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

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The Holy Grail of Education


Postcard widely attributed to French artist Jean-Marc Côté ~1910


“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

— Robert Henri

Despite massive shifts across the globe over the last century, we remain in the industrial age of education. The arrival of the Information Age, or Digital Age, has resulted in new classroom technologies fit into the old models of knowledge transfer. The industrial age has been digitized. Decreasingly eager young learners line up at the service stations of our educational institutions, waiting for their tanks – their brains – to be filled with what they need to know according to the powers that be.

To be educated is not to be filled, stuffed with the “essential” abstract knowledge of the day. To receive an education is to be “led out,” from the Latin educere. The educated person, then, is one who has been “brought forth,” led into his or her uniqueness. This knowledge originates in the self, and is truly what the world needs – human beings who are whole, aware, and ready to contribute because they know what they have to offer.

The world abounds in knowledge and data. For us to collectively confront the challenges we face, we need whole-hearted people much more than we need more information. In this context of “leading out,” then, what is the role of the educator?

We need teachers, administrators, and community leaders who can build and maintain strong “containers” for learning to take place. The best educators already know this, instinctively creating safe environments where people and learning flourish.

A container is a space – physical, psychological, and spiritual – within which a group works. As Bill Isaacs has written, the image of the container is very old, being referenced in the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical texts; in the writings of the alchemists; and in modern times in some of the work of psychologists looking to create what they call a “holding space” for the emotional intensity of the family.

The Holy Grail, the image from the myth of King Arthur, was supposedly the chalice that was used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The word grail comes from the French word graille, which means great container. The graille was a common soup container. The word also has the same root as corral–a round, containing enclosure–and also kraal, a Zulu word meaning “an enclosure of huts and cattle.” According to Laurens van der Post, a novelist and unique elder to this age, these roots reveal the magic of this term and the universal quest behind it. The container is “round, which has always been magical and an enclosure of life, sacred because it is an image of wholeness, something which contains all.”

The container is a symbol of wholeness, and a space in which creative transformation can take place. The holy grail of education is the container in which students are “led forth” into themselves and into the world. Not limited to a classroom, or a physical space, the learning container is the psychological and spiritual environment that is “held open” by the educator. As the authors at Groupworks have written, this active process of holding allows knowledge, learning, understanding, energy, ideas, perspectives, dissonances, and appreciation to flow and be contained in that space.

In these containers students grow in autonomy and connection as they are part of a process of exploration with other students. They discover their own value as they ask questions, follow their own curiosities, and help each other. In the best of containers, the students experience themselves as indispensably part of something – a unique whole individual in a group of unique whole individuals.

So, how does an educator build and maintain these containers? How does a teacher create an environment where students discover their own wisdom? How does an administrator insure that teachers, students, and staff are free to be themselves, offer their own gifts, and care for each other?

Holding a container can be compared to a protective embrace. Much has been made of “safe spaces” on college campuses, and the prevention of violence in schools. Protecting sacred space includes, but goes beyond, preventing offensive language, bullying, and keeping students emotionally and physically safe. This sense of protection is vigilant in keeping out forces that diminish the human spirit, making sure that each person’s opinions, feelings, and way of being in the world are respected. It also means keeping out conversation and activities that stray from the group’s intentions. You can visualize this sense of protection as a person with gently curved outstretched arms, palms facing outward, keeping out what interferes with learning and discovery.

There is the protection of the container, and there is the embrace. In this sense, the arms are outstretched, but the palms are facing the heart, making room in this container for all the people within it. Holding this embrace involves cultivating presence, an awareness of what is happening within and without. The one who holds the container with presence is attentive to what is said and not said, happening and not happening, sensing the flow of energy in the room and her own instincts. She has the ability to tune into herself and the group.

One must also be accessible within the container in order to be effective, with eyes on the people and energy of the room more than the next task at hand. A teacher or administrator is available to the degree that learners can connect with her on a human level. The best educators find the appropriate level of self-disclosure, becoming increasingly trustworthy as they reveal their own doubts and their own processes of discovery.

Finally, the embrace must hold diversity and dissonance. Nature always presents us with its own challenge. In the form of a group, the challenges are frequent. Our differences often provoke discomfort. In the hands of a gifted educator, these differences provide opportunities to reiterate the value of all sides and all people.

There is a dynamic paradox between the protective arms and the embracing arms—keeping out that which holds us back, and simultaneously welcoming all. It’s not an easy dance.

The artist develops the awareness and discipline of getting into a state in which art flows. In the same way, the educator is constantly learning how to tune into the group and individual students to make the dynamic container conducive for self-discovery as well as community-discovery. The objective is not to transfer knowledge, but to make the state of learning inevitable.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine

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Love and Limits of Language


“We are all bewitched by words.  We confuse them with the real world, and try to live in the real world as if it were the world of words . . . The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security.”

Alan Watts

I love words. I love the sound of a well-crafted sentence, the feeling of anticipation when sitting down to write, and the play that comes with weaving words and people together.

It started at an early age. As a child, I learned I could impact people when I chose the right words in the right order. As teenagers, friends and I formed Orbis Poeticus Ex Novus – a poetry circle where we would read the classics and our own work to candlelight. Yes, we were in high school during the release of Dead Poets Society, so we deserve more credit for our romanticism than our creativity.

Whether it’s been a speech, poem, post, letter, paper, essay, article, or conversation, or whether I’ve been on the giving or the receiving end, words have provided me with hours, days of joy.

And yet, words are also my heel of Achilles. I labor needlessly over getting them just right, forgetting the essence of what’s being said. I nitpick. I hide behind them. I sometimes will choose to be lyrical rather than authentic. It’s not my intention. It’s a very old habit.

In addition, my relationship with language has passed through the honeymoon phase. I now see that when I am focusing on words, I’m often thinking too much. I can lose my connection to self, others, and the world when I grasp at naming and clarifying.

“To define is to isolate, to separate some complex of forms from the stream of life and say, ‘This is I.’’ . . . Thus he begins to feel, like the word, separate and static, as over against the real, fluid world of nature . . . Because it is the use and nature of words and thoughts to be fixed, definite, isolated, it is extremely hard to describe the most important characteristic of life–it’s movement and fluidity.”

In college and in graduate school, I was thrilled to study hermeneutics and epistemology. Confronting the limits of language was a game, and I delighted in its players. I loved how questioning what we can understand and communicate led to more and more questions. For some, it was an annoying exercise. For me, it was amusement. But at times the analysis ruined the romance. Like dissecting a frog, my ability to sense the sufficiency – the “enoughness” — of language was lessened with every incision.

Words cannot capture an experience, though I love trying. Relying on my ability to speak or write does not make me a good communicator, though I sometimes act as if that is what matters. As much as I love language, the best of life does not lend itself to a description.

Now language and I are old lovers. We share a grand history, a deep respect, but the pleasure is more deeply quiet than raucous. The silent acknowledgment is often more meaningful than the perfect reply.



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Portrait by Donna Haupt

Portrait by Donna Haupt

“From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”
–Saint Arnold of Metz

I remember my first beer, a Milwaukee’s Best, cooled within, and consumed alongside a Midwestern creek. I recall the campsite as being beautiful, but The Beast was awful. Only a couple years later, I was drinking Bell’s from my native Michigan and my relationship with beer began to shift.

I love beer. I love drinking it, talking with people who do, and supporting the craft beer industry. You could take away coffee, pie, peanut butter, and even the Taste of Lebanon. But don’t touch my beer, our beer.

I am very fortunate to live in Chicago, home to the Beverage Tasting Institute, the Siebel Institute, the Cicerone Certification program, and many, many great bars, shops, and (finally) breweries. Chicago is a global hub for the beer industry. I don’t get everything I want – Russian River comes to mind – but my hopheadedness is consistently satisfied.

Beverage of the People

A short walk down the street and I can buy some of the best beer in the world. Whether it’s sitting at the bar at the Hopleaf or perusing the shelves of La Primera, I am thrilled to explore beer possibilities. Just ask Wes Phillips, my friend and beer mentor, how excited I get when he shows up with a backpack.

What other luxury comes so cheap? For $2-$15 I can get sublimity in a bottle, or in a can. Yes, there are some beers that are rare and sell for more, but those are for special occasions. Some people wait in line in anticipation, or even camp in the freezing cold. But “new” or “rare” do not necessarily equal good. Beer is the beverage of the people. It’s accessible in price and beer drinkers love to share their knowledge.

I made my first batch of beer in 2001 with two good friends. For our wedding in 2014, we brewed a clone of Pliny the Elder, one of my all-time favorites. The joy of brewing beer is the smell, the mess, and especially watching the fermentation happen. Yeast is crazy.

Homebrewed IPA getting "racked"

Homebrewed IPA getting “racked”

Industry of Cooperation

Despite a recent trend of trademark disputes, the craft beer industry is unique in that breweries often share information with each other and frequently collaborate. The brilliant Vinnie Cilurzo openly shares some of his recipes. The brewers of Mikkeller, Stillwater, and Evil Twin do not have their own facilities, but instead wander the globe. Other breweries open their arms and brewhouses to the gypsy brewers and others.

A couple years ago Allagash founder Rob Tod visited Belgium’s Cantillon, the world’s preeminent brewer of lambics, a spontaneously fermented sour beer. Cantillon brewmaster Jean Van Roy volunteered to help the Maine brewery set up its lambic-inspired Coolship program.

One famous story is of Avery and Russian River recognizing they both had a beer by the same name, “Salvation.” Rather than taking it to the courts or negotiating, they decided not only to leave the names intact, they decided to combine the complimentary brews into a new beer which they aptly named, Collaboration not Litigation Ale.

There are nearly 3,500 craft breweries in the United States, more than double the number there were five years ago. I hope that as more money flows into the industry, the spirit of cooperation can continue. I believe it will, as it’s part of the DNA of brewers. They love to talk shop, preferably while drinking. I’ve been privileged to sit and talk with Rob Tod and Omar Ansari. Both of them want craft beer to be successful, not just their own breweries.

In the Fridge

So, what do I drink? There is usually some combination of Modus Hoperandi, Off Color Apex Predator, Stone Go To IPAUinta Dubhe, Surly Furious, Green Flash West Coast IPA, and DirtWolf in the fridge year round. This list definitely represents the hop forward choices preferred consistently by my wife, and often by me.

In the colder months, there will be a stout in there as well – likely Founders Breakfast Stout and/or Victory Storm King. In the fall, I love Founders Harvest Ale and often a Belgian dubbel such as St. Bernardus Abt 12. Occasionally, a bottle of Wookey Jack will find it’s way in there too.

In the spring and into the summer, I crave the saison style and a sour beer when it’s really hot. We typically have an extra session beer chilling, and at least Stone Saison. Special occasions merit Fantome Saison or the standard Saison Dupont.

Speaking of special occasions, there are a handful of ales aging in the basement including a couple bottles of Bourbon County Stout, an Older Viscosity, three Vintage Ales brewed by Unibroue for Trader Joe’s, and Saison Brett by Boulevard.

When will I drink them? When they are replaced with something else.


Peer-to-Peer Perspective


Last weekend, I spent the majority of Saturday at an unconference, Cooperation 2015. Three of us – Steve Ediger, Jean Russell, and I – had spent a few months been planning this event, organized around Michel Bauwens‘ visit to Chicago.

The theme of the event was to connect people and ideas across Chicago in the “p2p” movement. What is peer-to-peer? You can read Bauwens’ definition, or my own simplified summary here:

Peer-to-peer is an approach to people organizing themselves based on some combination of:

  • Removing intermediaries
  • Enabling full participation
  • Open knowledge and sharing
  • Fair distribution of power
  • Equality of ownership or membership
  • Dedication to nurturing the commons

Here in Chicago, there are examples of p2p already emerging. About 40 attendees from a variety of backgrounds and industries shared their experiences, knowledge, and hopes for the future. The Dill Pickle Food Co-op was in attendance, along with the Mutual Aid Network, and our generous host, the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Throughout the day, we discussed open cooperatives, social cooperatives, open value accounting, time banking, coworking spaces, participatory budgeting, chamber of the commons, open design and manufacturing, WIKISPEED, FairCoop, mutualization of independent workers, commons based reciprocity licenses, and much more.

True Sharing

Many people (especially investors) are praising the development of the sharing economy. But some sharing economy companies are extracting value rather than distributing it. The peer-to-peer movement provokes us to pause and ask the following question:

Who is ultimately benefiting from my time, money, and knowledge?

The difference between a cooperative, and platform capitalism is significant. For example, the citrus farming cooperative “Sunkist acts on behalf of its farmer members.” When I buy a Sunkist orange, I am more directly helping the people who grow the oranges. Through a CSA I could remove another intermediary – the grocer. In this case, peer-to-peer would be farmer-to-eater.

If I buy an orange from a big box grocer, which sources the fruit from a corporate producer, I am supporting at least two sets of shareholders. Though we are starting to see a shift in who companies ultimately choose to serve, the dumbest idea in the world still lives on – that companies exist to maximize shareholder value. The low price I may pay is at the expense of the farmer or grove worker. When I pay for efficiency, I sacrifice my relationship with the earth and the farmer. I’m more removed from my food, and the people working with the land suffer.

Paramount Citrus packing facility

Paramount Citrus packing facility

Peer-to-peer empowers more people. It also brings us closer together as we connect to each other, often without the comfort of hierarchical relationships. Openly negotiating roles and exchanges of value may feel “messy,” but it reveals our interdependence and helps us see more clearly the contributions of everyone.

There are examples of peer-to-peer become more significant in lending, banking, food, journalism, technology, and governance. Together, Buffer, Semco, Morning Star, Valve, Zappos, Supercell, stretch across three continents, employ 100,000+ people, and bring in more than $20 billion per year. What do they have in common? They all have transitioned to alternative governance models. Whether it’s going to a boss-less work environment, or organizing a workers’ cooperative, peer governance can really work.

After five days of Michel sleeping in our guest room and an inspiring unconference, what do I take away?

Optimism for the Future

By adopting a peer-to-peer perspective, we can bypass some of the burdens of living in a world of broken systems. Otto Scharmer refers to these as divides – ecological, social, and spiritual/cultural – that lead to systemic disconnects.


Rather than fighting the system, we can connect to each other and create our own structures that are better suited to our needs. As Buckminster Fuller said,

“You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

There’s no need to wait. Peer-to-peer is open and free.

The Value of Perspective

We can view peer-to-peer as a model, but I also prefer to also see it as a perspective. In this way, we can build mutually beneficial relationships in the ethical economy, and we can ask questions in any arena. The peer-to-peer questions for me are:

  • Is value being fairly distributed?
  • Is power being fairly distributed?
  • Are all the stakeholders being considered?
  • What can be shared freely and openly?

I can ask these questions for my own company, community, and whenever I have a need or something to offer. Fair does not always mean equal, but it’s always a question worth asking.

For the last question, I’m pondering what it is that I want to contribute to the commons. I’ll keep you posted.

We closed the conference with another Otto Scharmer quote:

“The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of the awareness from which people in the system operate.”

I’m thrilled with how much my awareness grew in the last week, and looking forward to connecting with others who can amplify what we are doing, learning, and dreaming of together.

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Accepting and Slowing through Meditation

Purple Flowers Field of Badlands Utah by Guy Tal

Purple Flowers Field of Badlands Utah by Guy Tal

“People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”

 — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let me be clear from the onset . . . Meditation is rarely peaceful, blissful, or serene for me. There are moments when my mind quiets and I am aware of my breathing, or even that awareness disappears. Most of the time I’m listening to my thoughts racing by – things I don’t want to forget, memories, and especially plans.

I first started meditating, or sitting, seven years ago. I was curious. It became a challenge for me to see if I could sit still for 30 minutes at a time.

There are many benefits to meditating, but it was not scientific evidence that prompted me to experiment. It was knowing that I think too much, and simply the question of, “Can I learn to stop?”

My goal was not shutting down the mind, but slowing down and being present to whatever was there. I read Seeking the Heart of Wisdom and decided to commit to a daily break from activity.

Practicing Acceptance


“You want to escape from pain, but the more you struggle to escape, the more you inflame the agony.  You are afraid and want to be brave, but the effort to be brave is fear trying to run away from itself.  You want peace of mind, but the attempt to pacify it is like trying to calm the waves with a flat-iron.”

Alan Watts

The tension that existed when I began to sit still exists today. I know what I want, a quiet mind in this case, and I’m accustomed to making that happen through force of will. Ha!

Just like trying to make myself feel differently than how I actually feel, the mind does not respond to coercion. My only response is to let it be. If only it was that easy.

So, I sit in order to learn to let go, in order to accept my discomfort with sitting and the noise of my incessant mind. Does it sound torturous? On some days it is. But mostly now I can smile both at the activity and the voice inside me that grunts through gritted teeth, “Shut up!” “We’re trying to defeat this!”

I whisper, “It’s okay,” to myself and resist the urge to go into battle. It’s a beautiful practice for developing acceptance.

Slowing Down


Both my passion, and my tendency to cast myself in the role of Superman, often mean I’m in a state of constant mind and body activity. I love the fullness of my life, but I don’t want to live frantically.

Meditation encourages me to stop and intentionally move into the present. It’s often painful because I have so many good things I want to do.

Pressing the pause button to dance, do yoga, and sit are some of the ways I’m learning to slow down. I also love that my wife moves naturally at a slow pace. She teaches me that very little in life is urgent in the way she moves, knows when to rest, and savors our sensual world.

At the end of our meditation together, I pull her legs toward me and she climbs onto my lap for a moment. This, too, encourages me not to jump up and keep going. We breathe together and prepare to go back out into the world as more accepting and aware beings.

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Baseball as a Journey Home

Washington Senators vs. White Sox, circa 1909.  Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

Washington Senators vs. White Sox, circa 1909. Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

“Baseball is about going home, and how hard it is to get there and how driven is our need. It tells us how good home is. Its wisdom says you can go home again but you cannot stay. The journey must always start once more, the bat an oar over the shoulder, until there is an end to all journeying. Nostos; the going home; the game of nostalgia, so apt an image for our hunger that it hurts.”

Bart Giamatti

It’s the end of February. We want the ice to melt, the trees to bud, and to smell the wet new life of spring. It’s the time of the year when anticipation builds, waiting for the time of Via Transformativa when we move from restless, creative dormancy to animation.

I am waiting, too, to hear the crack of the bat and the “thub” of the ball hitting the mitt. I can already imagine walking up the tunnel and seeing the green grass for the first time of the season. Each year it brings me a chill and a smile as wide as Bagwell in the batter’s box. Another beginning, another cycle of hoping.

I played baseball competitively from the ages of seven until eighteen. As kids, my brother and I played stickball in the street, practiced hitting bottlecaps with broomsticks, and eventually built a backstop in our back yard out of railroad ties and chicken wire. Neighbor kids would show up on Saturday afternoons for pickup games. I collected, traded, and sold baseball cards. I was paid $15 a game to umpire little league. From April until October, I was reading box scores in the newspaper, watching This Week in Baseball, thumbing through Charlie Lau’s guide to hitting, and working on my circle change. Some kids played with a hacky sack. We played pepper.

I used to mark time by who won the World Series. We moved onto Leonard Street the year Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals won it. Oh yes, 1985. I remember our family roadtrips to ballparks in a mustard colored Westy (no, they were not hippies), hitting five or six games in different cities within a week, arriving early at each for autographs and batting practice. I’ve watched a game in 28 major league parks.

I remember being invited into the clubhouse during the 1983 Chicago White Sox “winning ugly” season where I met Scott Fletcher and Harold Baines, and stared at Pudge and Ron Kittle. Thanks, Dad, for pulling that one off.

I fell in love with the White Sox that day and have loved them ever since. I remember jumping up and down in my living room screaming when Konerko hit his grand slam in the 2005 World Series. I savor the memory of my dad and I at the ALCS game a week before, where AJ ran to first on the “trapped” third strike. I listened to the end of Mark Buerhle’s perfect game in the alley with a homeless man who had heard the lefty was three outs from perfection and was looking for a radio.

After my playing days were over, I drifted away from the game for a few short years. Then, like a catchy Motown tune, it gently nudged it’s way back into my consciousness. We reunited in the spring and I appreciated her more fully.

What do I love this great and glorious game?

Season & Senses

As our most literate former commissioner, Bart Giamatti writes,

“The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

It’s a game of sun and warmth, beckoning me onto the field after a winter of captivity. To see and smell the natural materials of baseball – leather, wood, pine tar, grass, dirt – calls me playfully into nature and childhood. It’s a sensual game.

Pace & Rhythm

I’ve heard the complaints countless times: “Baseball is boring.” “Baseball is so slow.” “The season is so long.”

Why does it need to move quickly? Don’t we deserve a sport that does not demand all of our attention? A game that invites us to slow down and enjoy the field, pauses, and a pace of leisure?

Baseball’s most thrilling moments — an inside-the-park home run, triple play, or stealing home — are rare. We go to a game never expecting to see them. We don’t need to because thrill is not an essential part of the game.

A stolen base, diving stop, outfield assist at home, or double play is grace in action. Being a second baseman and pitcher as a kid, I love the 6-4-3 double play, watching the second baseman catch the ball from the shortstop,spin in midair, avoid the sliding runner, and throw to first in what seems like one continuous motion. No wasted energy, no time lost. It’s beautiful.

With 162 games in a season, baseball is not designed as a spectacle. Unlike football in which every week builds up to a single game, professional baseball teams play six or seven games per week. I know that on any given evening while I’m preparing the grill for a cookout, I can most likely listen to a ballgame. The sum of these games create a rhythm that matches the pace of summer. I’m not riveted to the radio. I’m in conversation, or in thought, just enjoying the soundtrack.

The Mythology

Baseball is meant to be discussed. Because of this truth, we have a litany of writers who have anthologized the game to enhance all of our discussion. Then we have statisticians, who are more popular than ever. But most  baseball fans are also historians. We hand down the mythologies generation to generation. We compare Hank and Miggy. We tell tales of bloody socks and fried chicken. We stretch when we’re supposed to. We read Roger Angell and even George Will.

When my son was riding the bus to summer camp at the age of nine, his camp counselor on the bus played a game every day. With baseball cards in hand, he would flip two over on the bus seat, and ask the boys to vote for the better player. Gwynn vs. Ichiro. Mays vs. Junior. The counselor declared the winner. The education begins and the tradition continues.

“Baseball has a bizarre effect on writers: it turns them romantic,” as Eric Nusbaum writes. With the dawn of spring training, I know baseball is about to gracefully flow into the background for it’s share of the year. Hope is in full swing. The radio is on. I’m slowing down to relish it.


The Masculine Principle


“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.” – Martin Buber

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a call with corporate leaders on “Awakening a New Masculinity.” It is a topic I feel passionate about, and like my feminism, sometimes hard to discuss.

I feel like every conversation on this subject needs a disclaimer stating:

  • Patriarchy and misogyny both exist and are destructive
  • There is more diversity in gender expression than a binary of male and female, man or woman
  • Masculine and feminine are not captive traits to men and women respectively – they are principles

It’s confusing, I know. Just as it is confusing to be a boy growing up in our culture right now. As I wrote at the beginning of my Men’s Group,

I see a quiet crisis in the world of men. The violent silence and silent violence continue to cycle through generations. Boys are growing up feeling trapped between conquering and apathy.  I see confusion – what am I supposed to be doing? Who am I?

I have read books, spent time with men, played with frameworks and roles, and made a fool of myself trying to push out my chest and prove I was worthy — to prove I belonged in the company of men. And now I am left with few answers, only that growth is learned through experience. And that manhood is not something to be figured out, but lived.

In her 2010 book, The End of Men, Hanna Rosin asks what it would mean if “modern, post-industrial society is better suited to women.” Newsweek’s cover story two months later was titled, “Man Up!” and stated that the traditional male is an endangered species” and that it is time to “rethink masculinity.”

We know the male breadwinner is vanishing. Males comprise 80 percent of suicides and 94 percent of prison inmates. Boys, more than girls, are struggling in school. Boys are more likely to have ADHD, drop out of school, and choose not to go to college

Caught Between Extremes

Boys in many cultures are growing up with a direct experience of patriarchy both crumbling and being defended. New identities are emerging, but the transition is tense within this dialetic. There is corporate greed, cage fighting, and rollin’ coal. And there are “soft males” and ambivalence.

The synthesis is starting to become more evident in younger generations, and in movements like The Good Men Project and #HeForShe, I initiated a Men’s Group because I wanted to have honest conversations about these issues, and because I recognized that I needed intimacy with men. But I didn’t know how.

Transitioning from Roles to Principles

Intimacy between heterosexual men is not always an acceptable role. We are not supposed to show our “weakness,” doubts, or feelings. But intimacy requires all of this vulnerability. Stratified roles lead to soul trouble, and this one is no different. Bound by the concept of what it is to “be a man,” we sacrifice our own uniqueness and integrity in order to gain acceptance.

In order to move away from prescribed roles and the generational cycles of inheriting them, we need to embrace something different. Viewing the masculine as a principle, rather than a role or trait, allows anyone – man or woman – to embrace and embody the principle when needed in accordance with who he/she is. This provides freedom because it doesn’t need to look a certain way.

Transformative Axis

Tantric teacher Rudolph Ballentine brilliantly illustrates this principle with an added dimension. Masculine and feminine each also contain a yin and yang element. The transformative axis of the yin masculine and yang feminine balance the stabilizing axis of the yang masculine and yin feminine.

Transformative Axis Ballentine

Why is this significant? Our communities need these energies, and all of them exist within each of us. We don’t need balance as much as we need awareness. Boys need to learn the diversity that is within them rather than what it means to be a man.

Neither women nor men need men to be “men.” They need people who can be aware of the situation, aware of themselves, and aware of what energy is needed that derives from these (and many other) principles.

Accepting it All

I closed my reading from the inaugural Men’s Group with this:

For me, now is not the time to sit silently or disappear.

Now is not the time to let anger brew within me, a slow boil until there’s nothing left.

Now is not the time to let the power games and violence that men have brought to the world to continue to define who we are as men.

Now is the time to accept it all – the dark, the light, the masculine, the feminine – everywhere and within me.

Now is the time to acknowledge my fear, and lean into it bravely.

Now is the time to redefine power as that which brings life and well-being, not money and glory.

Now is the time to sit here with you and not have the questions answered but be willing to ask them.

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