Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality:

Click here to go to the next issue

Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nonduality Highlights each day

How to submit material to the Highlights

#3564 - Monday, June 15, 2009 - Editor: Gloria Lee

Nonduality Highlights

To me, oneness means inter-connection and non-separation, and there is no better example than Nature itself, this whole living universe. May we all graduate to this realization of our connection with all of life. So welcome to commencement!    

University of Portland, May 3, 2009   

Commencement Address by Paul Hawken   

Healing or Stealing  

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.” Boy, no pressure there. But
let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, 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, the earth needs a new operating system,
you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. 

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem
to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water,
soil, or air, and 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 any 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 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

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, business people,
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 B. 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, re-imagine, 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, and
non-governmental organizations, of 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. Think about
this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment.
Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to
destroy earth in real time than to 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. 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 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. 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. 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 become
religious 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 and 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. Hopefulness 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.  

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and
author. Starting at age 20, he dedicated his life to sustainability
and changing the relationship between business and the environment.
His practice has included starting and running ecological businesses,
writing and teaching about the impact of commerce on living
systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on
economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.
He is also the author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest:
How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why
No One Saw It Coming.

Ed Note: Yes, he is the Hawken of the famed Smith and Hawken Garden Store. Thanks to Susan Lucey for contributing this speech.

top of page