Creativity, Play & Innovation event visionstorm space


Let’s use this space to do some dreaming into the why and who of this conference event around the role, practices and audience dealing with creativity, play and innovation.

A simple exercise to begin the visioning process will help move us along. Assume there is something that wants to happen–a higher purpose which we can serve and source.  Our intent now is to become empty vessels as much as possible–freer of our own biases, likes, dislikes and even the boundaries of our own knowing. We want to tap into the larger teacher or wisdom source within each one of us.

We’ll do this with a method of preparation, a question and then a recording of the response.

Play with these instructions as you like, and modify them to suit your own inclinations:

-Relax. Lie down if you want. Scan the body from head to toe and le go of any tension–head, neck, arms, torso, hips, legs, feet.  Do this a second time. Feel how much lighter you are.

-Take three, long deep inhalations and exhalations. Imagine on the exhale expelling any mind-chatter, busy-ness and random thoughts.

-Now imagine you are standing before an ocean that is limitless–see it, hear it, feel the water. This is the ocean of your mind–with no beginning or end.

-Ask of this ocean a question or questions pertaining to our inquiry, like: (a) What wants to happen with this event or (b) what is the seed inspiration that is trying to come through here (c) any other question that comes to mind.

-Then wait and experience the answer. Might be in the form of words, sound, music, an image or images. Record what you experience in whatever way/channel you want–writing, drawing, singing, reference to other media.

Then let’s share here what came up and start to synthesize the outcomes.

Paul Hawken’s Address at Portland State Univ.–Beautiful

Wow!  What a moving speech to the 2009 graduates at their commencement ceremony at Portland State by write/activist Paul Hawken.  I offer the whole speech here, and it is beautifully conceived and written.

Paul Hawken: Commencement Address to the Class of 2009
University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity.  Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of
people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Audio & Video: Educating for Humanity

Eva Ravenwood has been interviewing me on BlogTalkRadio about my book, Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education. She goes chapter by chapter. Open these audio files in the pop-up window.

Session #1-I talk about the introduction to the book and a general overview. 

Session #2-I talk about the chapter in my book where I interview with Fritjof Capra.  We speak about the revolutions in science that reveal the interconnected nature of all reality and its implications for society and education. 


Presence and Teaching

When I wrote a poem about presence and teaching, I had just come from a 30-day retreat at Spirit Rockmeditation center.  I was tired from driving eight hours from the Bay area up to Eugene where I stopped for the night at a motel, but felt such an incredible energy and peace it was hard to sleep. I began thinking about a retreat for teachers, called we Teach Who We Are, that I was going to put on in about a month, and out poured this poem I called Omega.

The poem opens with: “There is something of immeasurable and imponderable beauty in every person  which cannot exactly be seen, but rather touched inwardly from one’s own depths, a deep connecting with and speaking to deep in a language beyond word or even breath.”  Talking about teaching,  I then go on to conclude:” I think the lessons we teach may only be way to occupy time and space, while this something hidden and unrevealed in us is waiting to be sensed in the mutual embrace of hospitality  that a loving heart, a patient gaze, a kind word, and moments of silence…..moments of continuing…… and deepening silence, can invite into our midst.”

Being present to  the fulness of life within and around us is the core pedagogy as well as principle outcome of education in the awakening world. The only way most young people come to see and feel into their own nature is in the mirror of a loving adult whose inner being has been mentored into life and who are able to do that for others. Said differently, the growing child sees themselves as they are seen by those around them. And those who do the seeing, see as they were seen. So, an adult who was criticized, berated and not seen for who they were as a child will pass on that same experience to others, unless they do the courageous and often painful work of healing their inner wounds, waking up in the process to their own inner beauty.

As a teacher of teachers and former family therapist, I have often thought about what is most important for any teacher, and I’ll include parents in that because our parents are our first and most significant teachers. I believe that the great work we all must do is to awaken to the greatness, the inner loving being within–and in doing so to know ourselves as love, courage, wisdom, compassion and all the virtues that come from this realization.

I believe this distills the message of the world’s major religions too. We all possess the Buddha nature, Christ in us, the “hope of glory” Col 1:26-27. Our purpose individually is to realize that nature. With humanity now at a crossroads, the lesson we’ve cooked up for ourselves globally is to also experience this “big mind” collectively. 

There is no amount of skill training as a teacher or content knowledge in a subject that can compensate for a lack of being. Someone could be the revered expert on a subject, a humorous and skilled lecturer, and they will inform and entertain, but they will not awaken others unless they themselves are awakened.  That’s the way awakening works. As my poems expresses, it’s deep speaking to deep.

Of course we’ve all had this experience of deeper connection to our parents, siblings, children, close friends, and to many or the students and other young people who come into our lives.  So what I’m talking about here is no mystery to any of us. Well, perhaps it IS a mystery, but we do have experience enough compassionate and empathic connection to recognize it when it happens. 

The real question for me, then, is how can we become more present more of the time and in all circumstances. That’ll be the subject for much more writing than I want to do in this piece. 




Schools that Limit or Liberate our Children





A hierarchical (left) vs. democratic classroom setup.                                           

How do we know if our children are getting the kind of education that is worthy of the special gifts each child comes into the world with? Let’s visit two schools. One I’ll call Edgewood Elementary– a neighborhood public school in a typical suburban community. Let’s call the other Greenfields Community School, a K-8th grade public, suburban school started under the inspiration of parents who wanted a different kind of education for their kids.

While these names are imaginary, the programs accurately portray the kinds of diverse educational choices you will find in many American communities. It’ll be obvious that these schools are very different. However, it’s easy to see the externals and miss completely the deeper meaning of those differences.

At Edgewood we would see the usual well-equiped building for 400+ students in grades K-5, complete with technology lab, a large library, an indoor gym, one classroom after another off of several long corridors that crisscross the building, and large playing fields outside for soccer and baseball.  We might feel at home here because Edgewood looks and feels like the kind of American school we’re used to. We might be happy with the many amenities we Americans have fallen in love with.

Alternative schools like Greenfields may not look all that impressive in terms of facilities. Classes might be in portables, or a renovated older wooden school building or house. There would probably be a modest library kept up mostly by moms, a few computers in classrooms, and a small play field—perhaps with trails going off into the woods.

Walk inside each school and watch a class in progress and the differences begin to mount. Chairs in the typical Edgewood classroom combine seat and writing surface, and are in rows facing the front where the teacher has a desk, can project videos and write on a blackboard. A combination of student art, world maps, the school honor code and enlarged photos of notable people—like M.L. King, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and John Kennedy—neatly line the walls. Greenfields looks casual by comparison, and perhaps even a bit disordered to some. Individual chairs are grouped around small tables, and you’ll see different centers, or areas where kids can congregate for various activities—like group reading, a center for science projects and so forth. The ceiling might be draped in a huge paper depicting the Milky Way galaxy, and there could be an 8×12 raised platform which children access by a small ladder if they want to go and hide out or just be quiet.  Perhaps children of different ages and grade levels attend many of the same classes.

If you used your watch to time how much of a 55 minute period the  Edgewood teacher was talking, you would find that she took 75%+ of the talk time, and it would be to convey the content mandated by the school district and state. In fact, one of the things teachers at this school might stress about is how much “coverage” of all the curriculums they need to achieve to make sure their school passes “annual yearly progress,” or the year-to-year gains in “student achievement” which the states under federal law “No Child Left Behind” are looking for. Typically, the teacher would go from one subject to another in successive periods.

Greenfields might start the morning with children in a circle sitting on the floor sharing something special to them, and they might do a ritual going around the circle of greeting their neighbor by name. The teacher may have had one of the students prepare the agenda for the morning’s activities on a flip chart—covering news items, the theme for today and inviting students to pick their work buddy for the morning with whom they will share a project. Kids might then open up their portfolios and choose a series of learnings they will do that day from a pre-arranged list of choices. After that, the class could engage in simulations of social interactions, learning to model through role-playing healthy attitudes and behaviors. Some kids might not feel like being in class for a time, so the teachers might have a small area in the building where children can go and be quiet, doing their own thing. You would feel the relaxed family atmosphere and little sense of pressure that “we’ve got to get somewhere.”

Aside from the written mission statements, the Edgewoods and Greenfields of America operate on profoundly different sets of largely unspoken assumptions about human nature, how children learn best, what’s important to learn and why. In “education talk” these unspoken assumptions are called “the hidden curriculum.” In short, how school is done communicates silently and powerfully to children about who they are or ought to be.

The Edgewood type school is an institutional culture where how things are done lets kids know that authority and what’s valuable to know is outside of them. Achievement, measured by doing well on tests and in proscribed class activities, is prized and reinforced through verbal and other rewards. Order, uniformity, and obedience are praised as means to assure that kids get to where they are supposed to be in order to get to the next level. Here the hidden message is “you’re worth what you achieve,” and achieving gets defined “being and doing good” according to schools expectations.  

Now, a lot of folks might think this type of institutional approach is not so bad.  After all, they might say, don’t we need an ordered society and responsible people who learn to work hard and get ahead to build strong communities and a strong America?  Well this is one viewpoint held in varying degrees by many Americans—whether they’ve fully unpacked their thinking or not. But what are the costs to your child in this kind of environment. 

Well, I would say that you have to work hard as a parent in the Edgewood schools to rescue your child’s authentic sense of self from the distortions that go on in these environments, where the inclinations, unique needs and subtle feelings of children do not have a home. When kids are mostly talked to—and not so much listened to—they learn not to listen and connect with their own deeper knowing. Child or adult—we all want to fit in, be accepted and liked, so kids will do their best to rise to the occasion and play the success game, which dominates the modern world and its schools. Without realizing it, children can lose themselves and that deep connection to heart and spirit we are all born with.

You see the aftermath of this kind of education in the many youth who look like wilted flowers by the time middle and high school come around. Or perhaps, they are the over-achievers who’ve learned to play the game well—and they make the institutional schools look better than, in fact, they are. In the race to success, everyone is at risk of becoming some kind of loser. Kids who do less well risk feeling less about themselves.  Students who succeed risk losing their authentic selves without even know that’s happening, because the culture shapes them into achievers and away from their own core personhood.

When I look at things like environmental devastation, people unhappy with their work, the spiritual and social ravages of materialism, the loss of community and meaning, I can’t help but think about the institutional classroom and its role in this messy world we live in today. After all, one could not design a better way to separate children from their authentic selves than the modern schoolhouse and the state-run systems that make this possible in all developed countries around the world.

And when you’re not connected to who you are deep down, how can you really be connected to others in a compassionate and sensitive way, nor to the Earth which is our home, nor to the subtle callings of spirit? As I explain in my book, Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education, if we want a peaceful, sustainable and just world, we need to start in the world’s classrooms by connecting young people with who they are, and then building on that by making connections to others near and far, to the Earth and to spirit and how we make meaning in life.

Goals like this go beyond national agendas, and define the kind of education we will need for the world we want. And the good news is, the schools we want are right here and now in the Greenfields model. We know how to educate right—we just need to wake up and gain the wisdom that a truly child-centered, personalized education is good for the individual and the broader society—you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

In the Greenfields type of schools, children learn to trust and honor what is inside of them. They learn that the most important questions have no one right answer, and that curiosity—as messy as it gets sometimes—is fun and good. They learn about cooperation and the value of kindness by doing it—not by being told to do it. Making their own educational choices lets them know they are competent and worthy of making their own decisions, and so they learn to grow in wisdom and smarts at the same time. With less “stuff” at school, Greenfields-bred students may be less inclined to get hung up on the latest gadgets and technology, and perhaps learn the value of simpler things. Similarly, they’re more likely to follow their own heart and path and less likely to get sucked into the maelstrom of success.

In the end, it’s a question of being more as opposed to having more.  If we truly believe that our children have a unique and special calling in life, then one of our greatest responsibilities and joys as parents and teachers is to see that who they are is honored in their school experience. 

As parents and teachers, we can advocate with our community leaders for more child-centered schools. In fact, this trend is happening all over the USA.  Join the movement, and, as Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”