Arriving in Rio
Twenty-four hours, three airplanes, stopping in Houston and Panama City before arriving in Rio, a city of 6.3 million people, at 4am. From the airplane the city looked like a series of interconnected islands of sparkling jewels inviting me to the party. On the ground it was a whole different story. The young man seated next to me said, “Wait till you see it in the daytime.” Humm…
Caught a cab, easy to get at that time in the morning, and headed into the city center to find the apartment I will be staying in for the next two weeks. After some searching in the growing traffic we found where I was staying and I met my enthusiastic host Jeff and two students from Germany who were also staying there. After spending several hours searching for a place to change money from dollars to Reals (interesting name for a currency) I went across town to meet my colleague, Robin Milam and begin our journey to the Rio Centro, where the UN conference is being held. We were told that it would take about an hour to get there, but were not warned about traffic.
First we took a subway to Ipanema (no I didn’t see that girl), then we caught a bus and entered into the absolute worst rush hour traffic I have ever encountered in my life. According to the locals, this is normal. It turned out that the bus didn’t actually go all the way to the conference center so we were dropped off at a shopping center where we waited for over a half hour for a cab. After over 4 hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic we arrived at the accreditation location, which had closed a half hour earlier. Luckily I had Eduardo, the cab driver waits for us, as there were packs of frustrated UN delegates waiting for cabs, they had surrounded us like hungry Piranha looking for dinner.
With our ebullient driver Eduardo chatting in Portuguese continuously we headed back to City Center. By this time it was 8pm and we had not eaten since early that morning. Another chaotic 2-hour ride sitting in diesel fumes and stop and go traffic. I kept thinking of all the 5rhythm classes I had taught on being with chaos. The practice on the floor meets the real world! Surrender… Let Go. Release. Breathe! I am tired, hungry and not able to communicate with our driver. This is what is happening right now. The lesson of chaos: being with what is, even when you would like it to be some other way. Time to pull out the big guns – Om Mani Padme Hum – chanting the mantra to one’s self comes with a spiritual guarantee of freedom (generally not instantaneous, but a good tool to have in times like this). Deep breath and traffic snakes slowly forward through the beautiful hills and valleys around Rio.
We arrived exhausted at my apartment in the city center and went looking for dinner with my gracious host. Dining on a dinner of chopped up, deep fried chicken parts, including bones, with over cooked white rice with ham bits and peas, I am happy and find myself digging for meaning in a seemingly chaotic, unfair and meaningless world.
The Irony of Duality
Although we have a choice in how we react to our circumstances, it is oh, so easy to get hooked. Especially when you are tired. But as Viktor Frankl said, the last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. Where we seem to get into trouble is that we often make choices based on what we consider right or wrong, good or bad, or that we can’t have this and that at the same time. In the world of science and quantum mechanics we have seen that the natural world is not an either/or world, but can be a both/and world. Like matter and energy, which can display characteristics of both waves and particles. Similarly, the belief that we cannot have a robust economy and clean up the environment at the same time is an excuse that our Corporatocracy seems to be using to justify our consumer based growth economy. Excuse me folks; there is no economy on a dead planet! There are more environmental jobs, opportunities and needs for cleaning up and restoring our ecosystems than even our seven billion people could handle… It’s about allocation and distribution, not scarcity and hording.
Locating the Rio+20 Summit in a place that is gridlocked with traffic and access, making the people whose voices need to be heard, unable get there easily seems to be another of those ironies. Perhaps that is part of the plan. The contrast of the affluent and privileged side by side with some of the poorest of the poor cannot be missed here in Rio. Again if we look to the natural world we see the principle of interdependency in action. Pollution, climate change, ecosystem destruction ultimately impacts us all equally. Actually the poorest of the poor may be the most adaptable to surviving an environmental, economic, social and habitat collapse. Perhaps Jesus was right when he said, blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. That is what’s left of it; if we continue in the direction we are headed!
Perhaps we need to learn to better care for and meet the basic needs of each other?
As Riane Eisler says, we need to begin cultivating a caring economy, one that is heart driven rather than mentally possessed with the distractions of our separate, self-focused ideas based in an unexamined belief in separation and scarcity. We could start with some more fundamental questions like: How much is enough? What is the gift I am here to give to the world? What is the impact of my actions today on all life on this plane and on future generations? What are we grateful for today?
Creating an attitude of gratitude
Perhaps one of the most important things to do is to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, regardless of our circumstances… Expressing gratitude for the basics like food, water, and a roof over my head is a good place to start. We who have been given so much have been truly blessed. What can I share today that could break down the walls of separation that keep me in this prison of isolation and separation?
This morning I woke up early to make my way back out to the UN conference. It was still dark at 5:30. The light in the bathroom where I was staying was burned out and there was no hot water. A cold shower was just what I needed to wake me up after a short night of sleep and I am grateful to have water… And shaving in the dark is a wonderful way to let go of my vanity over how I look. I mean what’s a little face fuzz among friends? Just in case I meet the Queen or someone really important I will throw my shaver in my backpack. And off I go on the bus for another two and a half hour drive to the conference site.
What are you grateful for today? Gratitude is a basic practice of sustainability. As Lynn Twist says, what we appreciate, appreciates… What do you want to grow in yourself and the world? Let’s plant our seeds of gratitude today.
What gives me hope?
This morning I sat next to a young woman named Anna Odell. She is 18 years old and a freshman in college. She is here in Rio with a group of young people form MGCY Major Group for Children and Youth. The MGCY is the official voice for young people in the UN sustainability negotiations at Rio+20. Anna told me that she had been meeting with over 700 other youth activists that had been held over several days to clarify the question, what is the future you want? Here they have been learning how to present their finding to the UN, how to negotiate and how to deal with the bureaucratic structures that can stop even the best and brightest in their tracks. These young people understand the problems, they have solutions and they have the technology to mobilize the more than 50% of the global population that is under 30 years old. Now that gives me hope! Thank you Anna and all of the youth here in Rio and around the world that are working hard to move towards a truly Great Turning…
What is happening here at the UN part of Rio+20?
According to UN publicity over 130 Heads of State and Government and many more Ministers will sit down to finalize negotiations and adopt a focused, action-oriented political document.
Roughly 20,000 members of civil society will be engaged in various activities of the Conference.
Over five thousand of them are Brazilians – proof of the high value Brazilian civil society places on this Conference.
In all, some 50,000 people are expected in Rio to attend the Conference or take part in various side events.
As I was riding on the bus home tonight I sat next to a high level delegate and science advisor from Germany. As you can imagine we had a somewhat heated, but cordial conversation about what would actually come out of the UN conference. In truth most of what will happen in the final document has already been drafted and even these small and inadequate measures will be watered down as they debate the precise and proper language to use in the final document.
In the UN’s own words they admit, that they must drastically accelerate the pace of negotiations. The whole world is watching us. And we cannot afford to let them down.
But we must be aware that the future is in our hands. Yes, you and me. It’s up to us to rise up and let our voices be heard. Our institutions and politicians are lost in the complexity of the issues and vested interests. They will let us down if we don’t demand that they deliver a document that is in the interests of all life on this planet!
What can you do right now to have give your voice to the future that you want?
How many Brazilians does it take to make a cup of coffee at a UN conference? Answer: 6 as long as no one is waiting. A translator, bored cashier, 2 coffee makers, one person to serve the croissants and look confused! (All this inside of a space that is 2’ by 4’, except for the supervisor who stands outside telling them what to do.)