Living adventurously

These are thoughts on 'A demanding and uncertain adventure' by Rosemary (Rowe) Morrow, written as part of the 2011 James Backhouse Lecture, an Australian Quaker lecture series. The theme of 'A demanding and uncertain adventure' is: "Exploration of a concern for Earth restoration and how we must live to pass on to our children - and their children, and all living things - an Earth restored"

Kootenay Mountains looking towards Paradise Pass

'A demanding and uncertain adventure' is a series of short essays that all relate to earth care, people care and ties them into philosophical and theosophical musings from Quaker traditions.  The essays are thoughtful, heart wrenching and heart warming as you follow Morrow through her journeys of earth repair, humanitarian work and creating models for a future society of peace and regeneration.

Morrow has spent many years working with people who have suffered with civil war, poverty and tragedy. She has worked in Lesotho, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Uganda, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Albania, East Timor and has observed many human sorrows and needs. She comments that what most people think of as development work, is actually derived from 18th century missionary work where cultural differences were categorized as uncivilized and primitive.  Many times development work operates on the premise that everyone in the world should live like North Americans/Europeans. Morrow says:

"Despite years of development people suffer loss and deprivation of basic needs and natural systems and have difficulty in accessing useful relevant knowledge, and equity of wealth, skills, access to resources and basic necessities. So I have two parts to my concern.
•     to offer relevant knowledge and skills to enable Earth repair
•     to transfer that information in ways that are respectful and mindful of people’s lives and culture."
(pg 20)

Food shortages are common in areas that have experienced war, land degradation, over-exploitation of resources and population pressure. Morrow discovered that teaching people how to grow food can be an act of empowerment and a step towards healing.  In some circumstances, even growing a few seeds is an act of faith in the future, an act of faith in other human beings.

"In Uganda and Cambodia in the first year of the project villagers wanted to plant annual vegetables but not fruit trees because they did not believe in a future." (pg 36)

Over time, people regained hope, pride, self-sufficiency, and connected to present and future rhythms of life. "Gardening in times of drought, pandemics or war rejects the chaos, and affirms human perseverance. Gardens are psychologically optimistic signs of regenerative spirit." (pg 37) This is not to say that gardening and food fulfil all needs, but it can be one step along the journey to restore spirit. 

Along with practising earth and people care to heal and restore life, Morrow looks at global trends on the human psyche. 

"We have forgotten who we are.
We have alienated ourselves from the unfolding of the cosmos.
We have become estranged from the movements of the earth
We have turned our backs on the cycles of life.
We have forgotten who we are.

UN Environmental Sabbath Program" (pg 43)

The other day I had a conversation about why I choose to live adventurously (my wording).  My reply is that every day, every person, every generation has different challenges and opportunities in creating their life path.  Your choices today and 30 years ago will not necessarily be appropriate for someone else today and ten years in the future.  We are living at a time where there are local and global challenges that did not exist at the same scale as 50 years ago.  Morrow lists some of the challenges: "... we are dancing on the peaks of oil, fresh water, soil, biodiversity, global warming, population, consumption and food." (pg 48) We are dancing on the edge, trying to keep our footing, and we are at risk of collapse.  We have much work to do to restore, renew, and regenerate that edge.

We also have many opportunities to collaborate and create a life that is healthy, supportive and happy, that respect's earth's limits, and takes care of people.
"Earth needs
  • people with skills, knowledge, Earth spirituality, influence and peacemaking skills
  • transition to low consumption of energy, food, water and non-renewable resources
  • restoration of landscapes to assist climate stability" (pg 49)
Morrow asks how we can create new models of living, how we can localize our lives, change our behaviour, open our minds to new possibilities and future visions, live in community and train ourselves in how to shift to a low energy and resource future.

"We have several strategies, sufficient science and technology to move towards a low resource future but it is the human frailties that will challenge it most" (pg. 48). I would have to agree with her.  The people solutions are the hardest.  We can regenerate forests, clean water, design new ways to harvest energy, but unless there are also the people structures (the invisible structures) to create peaceful, fair, creative societies, those earth repair projects will come to little.

Morrow finds inspiration from indigenous cultures for how to celebrate life while living with less. She looks a traditional Aboriginal cultures from Australia, the Konso for Ehtiopia, The Papago of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, The Bisnhoi of the Rajasthan Desert and finds:

"...people survive because they
•     find their land good and bountiful
•     adapt and respond swiftly to changing environmental conditions
•     limit and control consumption
•     practise generosity
•     practise co-operation and community
•     limit carrying capacity so Earth can heal and restore herself
•     celebrate and honour life." (pg 31)

Morrow says that our great work now is of restoration and reflection. She asks us to be conscious to the patterns of nature: in the interconnections, the abundance, the generosity.  She asks us to restore water, forests, wildlife habitat, soil.  She asks us to be humble, respectful and cooperative. She asks us:

"Will we love this Earth?
Will we restore her?
And will we live with her in peace and prosperity?" (pg 59)

Jack with Ralph, our fearless leader, on our last hike in this body. Ralph lived adventurously all his life and truly shared the patterns of nature, generosity and love of life with the rest of us. He will be missed.

So live adventurously, and reflect on the patterns around you.  Let the patterns fill you with awe, with joy, with inspiration.  Then, find the patterns that restore health, community, vibrancy and hope. 

 "To treat life as no less than a miracle, is to give up on it."- Wendell Berry


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