Saturday, January 31, 2015

Transcript of Awakin Call with Sujatha Baliga

Preetha: I'm really excited to be having this conversation with my dear friend Sujatha Baliga, who I have every interaction I have had with her, I've learned and grown immensely from every pearl that comes out of her mouth. She’s someone who leaves me always wanting more, and I hope you'll have that experience today. 
Sujatha is the Director of the Restorative Justice Project at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, where she helps communities implement restorative justice alternatives to juvenile detention and zero tolerance school discipline policies.
She's also specifically dedicated to advancing restorative justice as a tool to end child sexual abuse and inter-familial sexualized violence in the US as well as South Asia.
Her work is characterized by an equal dedication to victims and persons accused of crimes. She's a former public defender herself and also a victim advocate, and she's been a frequent guest lecturer throughout the world at universities and conferences. She's been a guest on NPR's Talk of the Nation and the Today Show, and her work has been profiled in an extensive article in The New York Times Magazine. She speaks publicly and inside prisons about her personal experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse and her own personal path to forgiveness.
She is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania, and she's also had some Federal clerkships. Significantly for our audience she's a longtime meditator, about 20 years, I think. 
I think, Sujatha, where I'd love to start with you is you're one of the remarkable people whose work and external, your outer life flows so organically from your inner journey and your inner work. Maybe you could start with that and tell us how did you come to your work on the justice system and on helping victims of sexual abuse? 
Sujatha: Sure. Thanks, Preetha, and I'm so pleased you're moderating today. It feels comfortable to be having a chat with a friend in front of an audience. It's lovely.
A little bit about how I ended up doing the work that I do today. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970's and '80's. We were the only immigrant family in our town, and there was a larger region there. It was not an easy childhood. I was experience abuse in my home at the hands of my father. My father sexually abused me for as long as I can remember.
It was challenging to be a religious minority and a cultural minority in a small rural place, so I was having a lot of bullying experiences at school as well. Just a lot of struggle personally.
My father passed away when I was 16, which created a whole other set of struggles. I think all of that suffering catalyzed me to want to do something about it. Over the years what that looked like was moving towards victim advocacy. So I became a victim advocate during and after college, working with battered women's shelters and on crisis hotlines and with sexually harmed children and women.
What I noticed during those years is that while I was effective, I didn't like who I was personally. A lot of my work was fueled by … well, all of my work maybe at that time was fueled by my own unresolved traumas and wanting to undo my own childhood by quote, unquote, "fixing other people's lives."
Really the anger was eating at me personally. I had migraines regularly, several times a week, blinding migraines, and really terrible stomach problems. I'm sure it was some sort of IBS thing that was never really diagnosed just by going to countless doctors and going through so many procedures. Nothing could really solve it. I remember really resenting being told that it was something psychosomatic. While in retrospect I don’t think it was psychosomatic, it was all definitely happening, it was definitely what I realized caused, psychologically caused, caused by my unhappy state of being and my angry, angry state of being and also wrecking havoc on my friendships and my boyfriends and many other things at that time. 
It was interesting. I had followed the man I was dating at the time, I had followed him to India for a year and was working, trying to help him start a program for the children of sex workers in Mumbai. That was the way I’d conceptualized at the time. When I got there and tried to get involved in the project, I realized the degree to which these women and their children were basically slaves. It was just too much trauma for me to handle. I hadn't worked out my own stuff, and I basically had a breakdown and realized that I needed to heal myself. 
I was just about to start law school. I was 23, 24 years old. I was just about to start law school, and I realized I had to work out myself before I could possibly go to law school. I was not going to survive the emotional and intellectual rigors of law school in the current state I was in. 
I went backpacking. I landed in the Dharamsala by myself and befriended a number of Tibetan families, who I was so engaged as a crisis counselor kind of person that I really would dig into stories of people about how did you escape and what's the landscape of Tibet today for your people. I really wanted to understand people's trauma, journeys and the suffering that they'd experienced. 
I think that maybe was a rare experience for them, in that a lot of people I think come to places like Dharmsala, which is where the Tibetan government in Nigal at that time was and where His Holiness’s offices still are. People come for more of a spiritual journey I think. I came sort of on my trauma journey, which I think people appreciated to some degree, where I wasn't making them prisoners of Shangri-La in a sense.
What I noticed in my conversations with them was that they would shift from these stories, these heartbreaking stories, where people could cry and express anger eventually toward some sort of just letting the subject matter go and then a few minutes later be laughing and sharing happy stories. 
I was never really able to make that transition. I lived in the anger and the rage. Eventually somebody had the courage to ask me in through my hard external way of presenting at that time, said, "What are you so angry about? What's going on with you?" which was a wonderful question. 
So I started to share for the first time in my life with people outside my inner circle. My father had sexually abused me. There was a lot of horror and shock from the people that I would share this with, and many of them would say, "You should ask His Holiness how does forgiveness play a role in this." I would ask them, "How are you so happy? How can you be so happy given what you've been through?" The answer would often come back, "We practice forgiveness." Then the dialog would then turn into what's the role of forgiveness in inter-familial harm. People would say, "You should ask His Holiness. You should ask His Holiness." 
I found this amusing. I said, “He’s busy. How do you ask the Dalai Lama a question like this?” Somebody said, "Write him a letter and drop it off at his monastery. You'll get some sort of response." I followed the procedures, and a week later I went back to see if there was a letter or something, and I was ushered all the way in to the desk of His Holiness's private secretary who said His Holiness's schedule had changed. He was supposed to be in Assam or something. “Would you like to have a private audience with him on Wednesday or Tuesday” or something, a few days later. I had this unbelievable opportunity to have an hour with His Holiness. 
The conversation started very much from the perspective of talking about gender-based violence and sexualized violence, and then it shifted towards His Holiness sharing very deeply about his own path to forgiveness. I was so moved by his own personal sharing of times earlier in his life when he had felt anger towards the Chinese and what practices and work that he had done on himself to do this. 
I could see in front of me this living embodiment of someone who had eschewed anger, let go of anger, but was still working on behalf of those who suffer without anger as the motivating force. That had been my question in my letter to him. I was unable to write the words, "I was sexually abused by my father." What I said was, "Anger is killing me but it motivates my work. How do you work on behalf of abused and oppressed people without anger as the motivating force?" 
I was seeing this. I was seeing someone clearly far more effective at achieving positive ends for others without anger, even in the face of unthinkable mass atrocities against his people and his nation and himself. So how does he do this? 
I said, "I want to forgive my father. I want to follow this path." The first question that came out of his mouth was, "Do you feel you have been angry long enough?" I thought this was the most brilliant question I have been ever asked, especially about forgiveness, when so many people who would say to you, "Oh, you need to forgive. You need to forgive and forget." It's very clear that when people are praising forgiveness as some freedom for you that it's really about them wanting you to get over what's happening when your natural, normal response is to unthinkable harm that you suffered. 
His Holiness asked me this question, and it was a genuine question. I could feel how genuine that question was. I actually took a moment to sit in silence with him and reflect on anger's diminishing returns on my life, on my personal life, on my relationships, on my boyfriends, on my family, on my effectiveness in the work, on my happiness. After surveying the landscape of the graveyards of what anger had left in my life, I said, "Yes, I'm ready. It's served me to this point. Maybe ... not maybe ... It is a big part of why I was able to survive to this day, but here I am ready to let it go. Yes, I want to.” 
So His Holiness gave me two very particular pieces of advice. The first one was to meditate. He said, "This level of rage," and even in that audience with him I was extremely angry in describing the work that I did and really raging about it and very angry. He said, “A mind that is this rageful is just out of your own control and so you need to meditate in order to reign it back in.” The first piece of advice was to meditate, really learn to be the master of your own mind. So I was, "Okay, that one I can do;" right? "I'll sign up for meditation course." 
His second piece of advice was to in some way open my heart to those who have done me harm or do harm. “Open your heart to your enemies or those you perceive to be your enemies.” I started laughing. I was laughing out loud at him, saying, "That's crazy. I'm about to go to law school to be a prosecutor to lock all these abusers and batterers and child molesters up and put them behind bars." He thought this was hilarious. He pats my knee. He’s, "Okay, okay, you just meditate." 
Immediately after leaving him, within the next few weeks went and sat a ten-day Vipassana Course, the Goenkaji Style Vippasana Course, and it was the hardest and best thing I had ever done in my life. 
That body-based experience of feeling in my body where my anger resides, healing when images and memories of the terrible things that had been done to me came to my mind. That Vipassana scanning, that body scanning, was incredibly powerful for me to really be able to dissect where in my body those memories live and what the physical sensations around those memories and what they lead to in terms of this endless loop of suffering that my mind goes into. 
I think having done that, for the first nine days you're doing breath observation for three and then six more days of body scanning and really feeling embodied for the first time in my reaction to the things that had been done to me so many years ago and also being able to be present with the present moment realizing my body is reacting to things that aren't currently happening. It was very powerful for me physically to feel, "Wow, I am having residual physical reactions to things that are not current in this beautiful meditation hall in Massachusetts;” right? 
What flowed from that was the Metta Bhavana [Dala 00:14:52], loving kindness practice, that they teach you the last day. I had a spontaneous sort of vision of one of the times in which my father molested me that usually brought up experiences of rage and anger. I used to replay that memory as a fantasy as if I stabbed him to death instead of him being able to achieve what he was trying to achieve. I would imagine stabbing him to death instead. 
I think that when I started doing that with that memory, adding the stabbing him to death thing was right about when my migraines started in my late teens. 
Instead I just allowed the thing to happen as it happened. That doesn't mean that I condoned it. It doesn't mean that I thought it was okay, but rather that … I love this quote about forgiveness I've heard. "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past." I just let the past be what it was. I just observed it for what it was. 
In this memory, rather than feeling the rage, I felt my father dissolve into light. That subtle sensation, that awareness in my own body, sort of just that lovely molecular flow that you can feel sometimes after a long sit flowed out of me and into him and he dissolved into light. 
From that moment onward I have never felt any anger, rage, any of the things, feelings, desires for retribution, feelings for getting back at him, anything. All of these things of course would be impossible now that he's passed. But I still carried all those desires as if I could bring him back from the dead so that I could punish him somehow. All of those needs were gone with regard to him. 
I’m not saying that I'm over anger when someone cuts me off in traffic sometimes or when some atrocity is happening in the world. I'm not beyond anger but I am beyond anger about that and about many other things. Probably beyond the feeling of retribution as being useful or even a desire for that coming up in me anymore. 
I started law school a couple weeks later and I had no juice for being a prosecutor. I thought I should drop out. So I went to my criminal law professor and I said, "I think I'm dropping out." He said, "Don't drop out." I didn't tell him why. I said, "I came here to be a prosecutor. I have no interest in being a prosecutor. I came here to help battered women, and I don't know how to do this now." 
He said, "You should think about being a defense attorney who defends women who kill their abusers." I was like, "Well, that's brilliant." He didn't tell me at that time, but one doesn't get to specialize in that right away; right? So I had to be a public defender for many years defending even those folks who had done exactly what was done to me as a child. 
I really feel like I gave them excellent representation and had a wonderful opportunity to be of service to folks who've done things that were done to me. At the same time the entire criminal legal system always felt not okay to me. There was a way in which it was so fundamentally binary, like it was us versus them. It felt divisive and it wasn't a healing way. It wasn't what I had learned in my own life as my way of moving past terrible things that have happened. It couldn't be more different really. 
I think of a court of law and I think of Susan Herman who wrote, the author of Trauma and Recovery says you couldn't create a better circumstance for bringing up traumatic stress than a court of law. We really re-victimize victims and we really ... It's a damaging process for everyone who goes through it, almost everyone who goes through it. I kept in touch with His Holiness’s office and they suggested that I read his book on Tibetan justice called The Tibetan System of Justice Prior to Chinese Occupation called The Golden Yoke, Y-O-K-E. It was a wonderful book describing many ideals that were there in the Tibetan law code about healing and victim-identified needs being attended to and notions like atonement and reconciliation that I thought, "My goodness, how could we do some of that here?" 
A friend who had been saying these words for years, "restorative justice." When I was describing this to her, she said, "I've been telling you about this for years." Susan said, "It's called 'restorative justice.'" "I'm sorry. I didn't understand." And I started to go to restorative justice trainings and learned so much about this model that I work in today as what I think is the better way to address wrongdoing, even the most terrible forms of wrongdoing, when it's at all possible. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Boko Haram and Nigeria’s elections

IRIN humanitarian news and analysis
a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Boko Haram and Nigeria’s elections

NAIROBI, 13 January 2015 (IRIN) - The terrible news keeps on coming from Nigeria’s embattled northeast. Two suspected child suicide bombers reportedly blew themselves up in a crowded market on Sunday – the second such attack in two days linked to Boko Haram in which young girls were strapped with explosives. Meanwhile, the Islamic extremist group has maintained the momentum of its more conventional attacks, capturing the town of Baga last week on the border with Chad and deliberately executingcivilians (earlier reports of up to 2,000 dead by Amnesty International have been disputed by the military. But the true figure remains unknown).
IRIN considers five key questions as Nigeria embarks on an election campaign against the grim backdrop of continued violence. 

Do the latest attacks indicate a change in Boko Haram strategy?

No. The use of girl suicide bombers is not new. In December, a 13-year old wearing a suicide vest entered  a market in the northern city of Kano, but she did not detonate her explosives: the teenager had been ordered to carry the bomb by her father, a Boko Haram member. Two other teenage girls deployed by Boko Haram at the same time did complete their mission, killing four people and themselves in the blasts.
Neither is the military’s failure to hold territory anything new.  Boko Haram declared a caliphate in captured territory in August last year, including 10 major towns in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. In Borno, Boko Haram holds 13 out of 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs), and two LGAs in both Adamawa and Yobe, although the situation is extremely fluid. The military’s response has usually been either silence or bluster. The trending hashtag #JeSuisBaga was a poignant comment on the high-profile reaction of the French government (and the world, including the Nigerian authorities) to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, and the hush of Abuja to the tragedy in Baga. Boko Haram seems to have singled out the town for special punishment after capturing it on 7 January. That may be due to the defiance of the community-rooted vigilante “Civilian JTF”, which reportedly had done much of the hard fighting to try to hold the town after the military barracks fell on 3 January. The irony is the Nigerian military also laid waste to Baga, killing 2,000 people in a reprisal raid in 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. That was during an earlier phase of the war, when the government’s hearts-and-minds campaign amounted to a self-defeating, insurgency-stoking, brutal shock-and-awe strategy targeting entire communities, with little differentiation between civilians and combatants.

What is life like in Boko Haram territory?

Details are sketchy. The reaction of most people to the arrival of Boko Haram is to flee; and the Salafist group is not exactly welcoming towards journalists. The accounts that do emerge suggest that, as promised, the militants impose a strict version of Sharia law, which has included amputations. There have also been reports of forced marriages by Boko Haram fighters. Movement is controlled with vehicles banned, apparently to prevent escape. The squeeze on local markets as a consequence of the closure of transport links has been exacerbated by a system of price controls. In some cases traders have had their wares “liberated” and distributed. There are hints that Boko Haram does not have enough men to garrison its towns effectively, and occupation therefore quickly dwindles to a few road blocks, with no real attempt at an alternative administration. So, life continues pretty much as normal if you are, for example, a traditional farmer.

Why is the military’s performance so lamentable?

Nigeria is proof that military spending does not necessarily buy security. The 2014 defence budget was $2.1 billion and the overall security allotment $5.8 billion – the largest slice of the government’s expenditure pie. And yet the regular excuse is that its soldiers are out-gunned by Boko Haram, despite the helicopter gunships, ground-attack aircraft, and surveillance drones in the official inventory. Closer to the reality on the ground was the report of a recent court martial, in which soldiers complained they were issued with 60 rounds of ammunition and expected to transport themselves to the front in a tipper truck. They were owed five months' back pay.
Corruption is said to the biggest enemy, with money and fuel meant for the troops siphoned off by senior officers. The repeated failure to destroy munitions and equipment before positions are surrendered to Boko Haram is another factor, as is – sadly, given Nigeria’s peacekeeping pedigree - military incompetence.  When the troops are well led and properly supplied they win their battles. But there have been repeated reports of the military even failing to make use of reliable intelligence provided by its allies. And now the government has splurged on opaque defence contracts, with more helicopter gunships, mine-resistant armoured vehicles and possibly a squadron of new, never-before flown by any other air force, counter-insurgency aircraft.

What is the humanitarian fallout?

The government says the fighting has displaced 1.5 million people within the country. There are questions over the methodology used by the National Emergency Management Agency, which produced that number, but the UN uses the figure. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, people typically flee to the neighbouring states of Bauchi, Gombe, and Taraba, and to central Nigeria and the Middle Belt region. These areas, to a lesser extent, are also affected by violence, “increasing competition for resources between IDPs [internally displaced persons] and host communities in flashpoint areas”.
Worsening food security in a region with already some of the worst nutrition and child mortality indicators in the country is another cause for concern. As a result of the disruption to local markets and the fall in agricultural incomes, the Famine Early Warning System Network has advised that “in the absence of well-targeted humanitarian assistance, as many as three million people will be unable to meet basic food needs by July 2015”.

What happens next?

All this will have an impact on already dangerously charged and highly polarized elections on 14 February. The entourage around President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, has long whispered that Boko Haram has been a conspiracy by northern politicians to scupper his tenure. The populist theory prevailing in the north, which will vote in huge numbers for his rival Muhammadu Buhari, is that Boko Haram is the creation of the government to undermine their region.
The Independent National Electoral Commission claims that 80 percent of the people entitled to vote in the northeast have their official voting cards – an almost incredible result given the extent of insecurity in the region. But there is confusion over how the poll can be run under the current electoral laws in conflict-affected areas. With the grubby history and perennial violence of Nigerian elections, it is unlikely that the ballot will be peaceful, or that either side will accept defeat with grace and sang-froid. Regardless of who is deemed the winner, there may well be unrest and bloody protest, from which only Boko Haram can profit. But the positive take is that there is a growing social and political consciousness demanding change. And if saner heads prevail, out of this process Nigeria’s democracy can emerge stronger, striking a more effective blow against extremism.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Monday, January 19, 2015

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interview Series. Dave Pruett (Part 1)

Awakening to our Real Identity

Part One / Part Two

Dave Pruett, a former NASA researcher, is an award-winning computational scientist and emeritus professor of mathematics at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Reason and Wonder, his first book for the general public, grew out of an acclaimed honors course at JMU, with partial support from the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and JMU's Mengebier Endowed Professorship. The author hopes that readers will experience what bright and intellectually courageous students have raved about: "... a vast world of mystery and discovery" and a "positively altered ... worldview and relationship to the universe."

Yago: Dave, you are very much welcome to this blog where we are naming and deconstructing the energies of enslavement that keep perpetuating slavery in today’s world. You have recently published a very interesting book called Reason and Wonder: A Copernican Revolution in Science and Spirit. You deal in great measure with issues of identity. It is the journey to our true selves explained through several “identity” revolutions. I profoundly believe that enslavement has much to do with identity. Your book offers a way to move beyond the either/or choice of reason versus intuition, a dichotomy that ultimately leaves either the mind or the heart waiting. In doing so, it seeks to resolve an age-old conflict at the root of much human dysfunction, including today’s global ecological crisis. Your reflections and discoveries will contribute very much to the goal of this blog.

To begin with, you have been a former NASA researcher, you are an award-winning computational scientist and professor of Mathematics at James Madison University. Could you share with us your professional journey and how has it contributed in your personal evolution?

Dave: My personal and professional journeys are closely intertwined. I’m the product of a very rational father—a physician—and a very intuitive and religious mother (who passed away two years ago). I’m both: a mathematical scientist who occasionally dabbles in poetry and has learned to listen carefully to the still, small voice of intuition. However, these two parts of my being—the rational and the intuitive—have not always cohabitated happily. This tension produced vocational ambivalence that persisted well into mid life.  Having graduated with a degree in engineering, I briefly considered entering the ministry (which would have been a disaster) before teaching high-school mathematics for a while. Eventually I settled into university teaching, but not before flipping back and forth between teaching and NASA-related research.

John Yungblut
I owe much to a mentor whom I encountered in mid-life: John Yungblut. John, a former Episcopalian minister and civil-rights worker, founded an organization named Touchstone, dedicated to spiritual guidance in the sense of helping individuals uncover their deep identity and live true to it.  John, who spent a lifetime studying the religious mystics, helped me to realize what I was experiencing—being drawn in two different directions—was the quintessential struggle of mystics throughout the ages. Through John, I encountered some mystics of old, and more importantly, some influential modern mystics, including Carl Jung and the paleontologist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Through their stories I learned that, if one can hold this tension of opposites long enoughsustain it, be true to it[one] can become a vessel within which the divine opposites come together and give birth to a new reality,” in the words of Mary Louise Von Franz, protégé of Carl Jung.

And so my evolutionary journey has been toward greater personal integrity by trying to bring those two aspects—mind and heart, the scientist and the spiritual seekerinto closer harmony.

Yago: You say that a decade ago, you left your comfort zone as an academic applied mathematician to create the course “From Black Elk to Black Holes: Shaping a myth for a New Millennium” at James Madison University. This course eventually gave birth to your book Reason and Wonder. Why did you feel the need to leave the comfort zone in academics? Who was Black Elk? What was the essence of your course? How did it evolve to become this new book? Could you explain to us this process?

 Dave Pruett leads a discussion
during his honors course
Dave: At some point in my journey, I began to realize that what I thought was a personal struggle for integrity is actually a societal one. Cultural historian Richard Tarnas observes “… the modern soul’s allegiance is to Romanticism, while the modern mind’s allegiance is to the Enlightenment. … That’s the schizophrenia that all of us grew up with in the twentieth century.” Many ills of Western society can be traced to a disconnect between head and heart, which manifests culturally as a schism between science and religion.

My honors course at James Madison University--“From Black Elk to Black Holes”—was designed to collectively explore this dichotomy. It’s premise was to view the universe from vastly different perspectives—from a mythological perspective of Native Americans on the one hand and a modern scientific perspective on the other—and then to look for resonances between these seemingly disparate and possibly irreconcilable worldviews. The former perspective was provided primarily through reading Black Elk Speaks, an American classic that tells the true story of Nicolas Black Elk, a Lakota (“Sioux”) shaman who was a teenager at the time of the Wounded Knee (SD) massacre of 1890.

A web of connections is formed as students connect
to each other, connect ideas, and connect rational
and intuitive modes of learning
To the amazement of all involved—students and instructor—we were able to bridge that divide, and in so doing, many students found the course to be life changing, as have I. The lectures prepared, insights gleaned, and connections made gradually coalesced—over a period of 12 years--into Reason and Wonder, a love-letter to the cosmos written with the help of 140 honors students.

John Hunt Publishing
Yago: In your book you describe the way science is contributing to deconstruct human narcissism. Steve Taylor in his book (The Fall, 2005) talks about “the ego explosion,” happening 6,000 years ago, as the most momentous event in the history of the human race. But, first of all, what do you mean by human narcissism? What is its origin? Does it have any relation with the development of our brains? Can we say that it is a necessary step, to be transcendent, in the evolution of humanity as part of an emerging self-aware Universe?

Dave: Human narcissism is the (probably) faulty perception that the universe is all about us: Homo sapiens. I don’t know the origins of this perception, but certainly Judeo-Christian mythology has reinforced it. Other cultures—Native American, for example—do not seem as prone to such narcissism.

Regarding the ego, I often ask my psychologist friends (and myself), “What is the ego?”  I haven’t found a good answer, but I do think I have a good analogy. The ego is to the soul what the eggshell is to the egg. At one stage of development, it’s a necessary protective enclosure that allows the delicate young soul to develop. But at another stage, the ego must be transcended if the individual is to find her/his place in community. Similarly, the human species must transcend its narcissism in order to find its true place in the cosmos.

Yago: You say that Copernican revolutions, originating in science, profoundly alter human self-perceptions to leave lasting traces in the collective psyche. Could you tell us what was the human self-perception that was shattered by the first Copernican revolution?

Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543)
Dave: Copernican revolutions are so-named in deference to Nicolas Copernicus, the Polish astronomer, mathematician, and cleric who inadvertently landed what Freud term “the first blow to human narcissism.” He did this by overturning the old cosmology through the publication in 1543 of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. By shifting from a geocentric cosmological perspective to a heliocentric one, Copernicus literally made the earth move.

Yago: You say that Copernicus dethroned the human race from its self-appointed seat at the center of the cosmos. Could you explain to us Copernicus’ contribution to our self-awareness? How did his discovery affect our sense of identity?

Dave: The cosmology of Ptolemy, which prevailed from the early second through the mid 16th centuries, was both earth-centered and homocentric. Christianity, which came of age with a Ptolemaic worldview, adopted much of this cosmology as de facto dogma through the writings of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

“Of all discoveries and opinions,” observed Goethe, “none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus,” for at least two reasons.  First, as Einstein observed, Copernicanism dislodged us from the center of the cosmos and relegated us to its remote outskirts. Second, aftershocks of the Copernican revolution—still ongoing in scientific developments such as Big Bang cosmology and the Hubble Space Telescope--exploded the size of the known universe. Once thought to contain but a few thousand nearby stars visible to the naked eye, the universe has grown to some 100 billion galaxies each sporting, on average, 100 billion stars! Is all of this grandeur just for us humans?

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Yago: Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler had the contentious and dangerous task of promoting and defending Copernicus’ theory. The “Galileo affair” drove a wedge between science and faith that persists to this day. The central issue cut to the heart of what it means to be human. Galileo courageously believed that Truth is one. He established the complementarity of the book of nature and the book of scripture. Could you share with us Galileo’s main contribution to the meaning of our humanity?

Dave: At issue is the locus of truth. Does it lie externally, in religious authority, or can the individuals perceptions and experiences be true guides to ultimate reality? Galileos crimewas unabashed belief in the latter, at least in questions of a physical nature. “In questions of science,” he maintained, “the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single mind.” Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler collectively paved the way for Isaac Newton and the Enlightenment.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
Yago: You call Johannes Kepler the “protestant Galileo.” Carl Sagan said that Kepler was the first astrophysicist and the last scientific astrologer. What did he mean by that?

Dave: Together, Galileo and Kepler reset the cosmos’ center of gravity by convincing us of the validity of heliocentric cosmology. Galileo, who grew up in Florence, a child of the Renaissance, was truly modern in many aspects. His writings have a modern ring. Kepler, in contrast, was born in the shadow of the Dark Ages. His mother was tried for witchcraft. The number mysticism of Pythagoras and Nicolas of Cusa motivated his initial foray into mathematics and astronomy. His early scientific “discoveries” were whimsical in retrospect. But Kepler had extraordinary scientific integrity, perhaps more even than Galileo. When the theory didn’t quite fit the astronomical data, he kept searching for a better theory. It took him innumerable false starts and more than twenty years to elaborate the three laws of planetary motion that paved the way for Newton. One might say that Kepler clawed his way from the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment, and in so doing, helped lift us as well.

Yago: Supernovae, black holes and the Big bang. As you say creation is not a fait accompli. It is dynamic, sometimes violent, and still very much in progress. Could you share with us the last echoes of the Copernican revolution? Legacies that Copernicus could not have dreamed of?

Big Bang simulation
Dave: Well, I don’t think we have seen the last echoes yet!  However, one of the more exciting echoes was heard, literally, in 1965. As the theory of the Big Bang developed, physicists realized that we are still immersed in the primordial “fireball,” and that faint wisps of that explosion should be detectable as low-level microwave radiation from all skyward directions. Two researchers at Bell Labs—Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson—accidentally stumbled onto that radiation when they encountered an annoying, persistent, and initially baffling “hiss” in a horn antenna that they were using for satellite communications. They were eavesdropping on a lingering whisper from the Big Bang! For this discovery, they shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1978.

Another aftershock of the Copernican revolution is the theory of black holes. I’ll never forget the impact of “seeing” a black hole for the first time. Of course, I’m being facetious, because by definition they are invisible and their presence can only be inferred.  Nevertheless, I’d taken a group of university students to London for a month to study “British science” in situ. We were on a day trip to the Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, which has produced some 25 Nobel laureates. To our amazement, when our tour guide was taken ill, his replacement was Malcolm Longair, then director of the Cavendish! (Other directors include such scientific giants as James Clerk Maxwell and Ernest Rutherford.) Longair, a radio astronomer, described advances in radio astronomy that now permit astrophysicists to peer into the hearts of distant galaxies, and what they see is spine-tingling. At the center of a garden-variety galaxy, stars race around an apparent gravitational source. These stars behave like mere planets, orbiting tightly on short gravitational leashes, trapped in a monstrous gravitational field. Their orbits are elliptical, in accordance with Keplers first law. The location of the gravitational source can be pinpointed precisely at the coincident foci of overlapping ellipses, as Longair’s data showed us. But the gravitational source, unlike the orbiting stars, remains invisible because the source is a black hole!

Black Hole simulation

One might think that black holes are just another curiosity of the cosmos.  What I find startling is that in a subtle way may be necessary for the existence of life. Galaxies are like giant heat engines, with heat sources (stars) and heat sinks (black holes). Without the sinks, there could be no downhill flow of energy, and without that downhill flow, there could be no life!

Yago: You say that about midway through the Copernican Revolution, if we consider that it took around 400 years to process, comes Charles Darwin. Darwinism was the second blow to human narcissism. Darwin did to biology what Copernicus did for cosmology. Darwin explodes our view of how we see ourselves in the biological cosmos. What can you say about this second blow to our narcissism?

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Dave: Prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) humans sat atop a pinnacle of divine creation. Origin and its sequel, the Descent of Man (1871), displaced humans from that seat of high honor and relegated us to one branch of a tree of life,no different in kind from other living organisms, only in degree. Adding insult to injury, Darwinism hinted that Homo sapiens arose by fortuitous happenstance among random events rather than by inspired design. Thus, Copernicanism and Darwinism both call into question the exalted status of the human.

Yago: You say that following Copernicus, science and religion separated. After Darwin they divorced. Could you share with us your understanding of this?

Dave: The late psychiatrist Scott Peck observed that the “Galileo affair” surrounding the Copernican controversy produced an unwritten contract between science and religion in which the “natural” became the domain of science and the “supernatural” became the domain of religion. Others might place the separation earlier, with the partition of mind and matter by the philosopher Rene Descartes. Either way, Darwin’s intrusion on religion’s myth of creation produced divorce. That divorce has forced what Ilya Prigogine (Nobel laureate in chemistry) terms a “tragic choice” between an “alienating science and unscientific philosophy.” This is particularly true in the US. Although the US has produced more Nobel laureates than any other country, half the American populace is suspicious of science to the point of being anti-science.

Yago: You say that above all, Darwinism is a “time bomb.” It explodes the sweep of time as extravagantly as Copernicanism exploded the confines of space. When we combine these two revolutions, for the first time in the history of life as we know it, we begin to have a complete picture of our physical and biological origins. Could you expand on this?

Dave: When as a young man Darwin embarked on the H.M.S. Beagle, he was a young-earth creationist who accepted without question a biblical chronology that reckoned the age of the earth at about 6000 years. However, his study of geology during the five-year voyage convinced him that the earth must be exceedingly old. Indeed, “deep time” became a necessary ingredient of the theory of evolution. The discovery of radioactivity in the late 19th century allowed definitive dating of the earth at about 4.6 billion years, vindicating Darwin, who went to his grave still uncertain about the earth’s age. The deep-time legacy of Darwin therefore parallels the deep-space legacy of Copernicus. Both revolutions dramatically explode our perceptual confines.

A pictorial view of the Aristotelian model of the Cosmos
The two revolutions share another common attribute: dynamism. The Ptolemaic-Aristotelian universe was flawless, eternal, and above all, static. Darwinism undermined the stability of species. Big Bang cosmology--an aftershock of Copernicanism—undermined the stability of the heavens. The common theme of both revolutions is that the nature of Nature is to change.  Heraclitus was right: there is nothing permanent but change.

Yago: You say that survival of the fittest is not the only attribute of the evolutionary theory. As organisms progress they also learn to cooperate. What evidence do we have in this regard?

Charles Darwin's 1837 sketch
of the diversification of species
from a single stock.
Dave: Darwin’s theory of evolution emerged from a long, hard slog through mountains of geological and biological observations. However, Darwin had at least two epiphanies. One concerned the notion of “divergence.” Why are there so many similar species? Darwin pondered. Why for example, do 13 finely graded species of finch exist in the relatively tiny Galapagos Islands? Darwin’s revelation came in recognizing that incipient speciesthat is, biological varieties on the cusp of speciationwill be driven apart by natural selection. Darwins metaphor was branching in the tree of life. When times are hard, competition for resources is intense. In the natural world or the laboratory, no two species eating the same food in identical ways can peaceably co-exist in the same test tubes, on the same rocks, or on the same islands without driving one or the other to extinction. Organisms reduce the pressure of competition by specialization, by finding and occupying niches.

Once species are “comfortable” in their niches, interesting adaptations can take place. Darwin once observed a variety of Madagascar orchid with an 11-inch long nectar receptacle.  He casually predicted that somewhere there existed a moth with an 11-inch proboscis, peculiarly adapted to pollinating that particular orchid. Forty years later, the moth was discovered. This is a lovely example of coevolution, a type of biological cooperation between or among species. When you think about it, the entire biosphere is the result of a type of cooperation among millions of species in which each has a role to play, from the lowliest bacteria to the human.

Yago: Bruce H. Lipton, in his book The Biology of Belief, demonstrates how the new science of epigenetics is revolutionizing our understanding of the link between mind and matter and the profound effects it has on our personal lives and the collective life of our species. You find epigenetics the most fascinating thing from biology. For you epigenetics is to biology what entanglement is to quantum mechanics. Can we say that epigenetics is one of today’s echoes of the second Copernican revolution? You say that we have incredible revelations from modern evolutionary biology. Could you open our eyes to the latest discoveries in this field?

Dave: Oh, I like that—epigenetics as an echo of the second “Copernican” revolution! Yes!

Science remains heavily steeped in materialism, which partially explains the exuberance surrounding the decoding of a complete human genome. It was presumed by many that decoding the genome would reveal the essence of being human. However, the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 2003--spectacular as it was--evoked a sense of letdown for some. For all their efforts, what had researchers gleaned? Some found the accomplishment hollow, likening it to the completion of a phone directory for New York City. Having all those names and addresses reveals nothing about the interactions of the persons listed.

Perhaps the HGP’s great accomplishment, therefore, lay in exposing the importance of biology’s newest frontier: epigenetics, the study of gene expression. It’s not enough to know the genome. Genes encode heritable traits, but only if those genes are activated, or “expressed.” Although identical twins begin life with identical genomes, by old age their genetic makeup may differ by 50 percent or more. All manner of environment factors—lifestyle, diet, habits, exercise—affect gene expression.  Epigenetics has revived the old nature-nurture debate.  What we become depends literally upon all that happens to us over a lifetime. Genes alone do not make an individual; it takes an ecosystem.  So biology too reveals an essential dynamism and interconnectedness.

Yago: Once we get over the shocks to our self-image posed by Copernicanism and Darwinism, there is opportunity for a revised and more meaningful myth. For example, the late Catholic theologian Thomas Berry recognized that, for the first time in human history, we have a common myth that we can share. We understand myth as a grand narrative that gives meaning to our lives, individually and collectively. What can you say about that?

Dave: Every human culture has a creation myth that embodies how “the people” are to relate to the cosmos, their creator, and their fellow creatures if they are to thrive. The importance of these grand narratives cannot be overstated. Observe any culture whose myth has been stripped away and you will find devastation.

For example, read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and your heart will break.

I believe that much of the dysfunction of the Western world is due to a subtle loss of myth. “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story,” observed Berry. “We are between stories.” Science has gradually eroded the religious myths without offering a palatable substitute. Berry spent most of his life scripting and telling the “new story” that blends modern scientific insights and ancient wisdom. And what a story it is.  For the first time in human history, we have the possibility of a common myth that incorporates all peoples and indeed all things in its cosmic sweep. One is reminded of the Lakota password mitakuye oyasin, which translates “all my relatives” but implies that everything in creation is a beloved relation.

Yago: Could you briefly share with us the “new story” proposed by Berry?

Dave: Thomas Berry’s hallmark aphorism is the following: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” His vision is simply about re-awakening to the numinous qualities of the cosmos in general, and the earth in particular, qualities that are discounted in the extreme materialism of the West.

Timberlake Earth Sanctuary Press, 2012
Carolyn Toben, who knew Berry during the last 30 years of his life, has recently released a wonderful little book entitled Recovering a Sense of the Sacred: Conversations with Thomas Berry. Through a series of vignettes, Toben introduces the reader both to Berry the visionary and to his vision. I felt Berry’s presence come alive while reading the book, and it touched me deeply.

Any attempt of mine to illuminate Berry’s vision will pale in comparison to what Toben has done. Perhaps the best I can do is to let Berry speak for himself, as recorded by Toben. In their last interview in May 2009, Berry conveyed to Toben “seeds of the future,” glimpses of his vision intended for younger generations. Both the interviewer and the interviewee felt a sense of urgency during that meeting, each knowing it would be their last. Berry was quite ill and passed just weeks later.  Here are a few of those beautiful seeds:

"Tell them [future generations] something new is happening, a new vision, a new energy, a new sacred story is coming into being in the transition from one era to another."

"Tell them in the darkness of this time, a vast transformation is occurring in the depths of human consciousness, which is leading to a recovery of the soul, the earth, the universe, and a sense of the sacred."

"Tell them a Powerful Loving Voice that spoke through every cosmic activity is speaking again through voices all over the earth—voices who recognize that loving the earth as their common origin unifies us all."

"This Loving Voice is also speaking through every bird, leaf and star, and through the polar bear, the wolf and every threatened species, awakening humanity to see all living forms as a single sacred community that lives or dies together."

"Tell them that the concern now must be for the preservation of the whole earth, a bio-spiritual planet. … And tell them they will meet great companions along the way, including those that burrow in the soil, fly in the air, and swim in the sea."

"Tell them that they can find their own story within the sacred story of the universe."

"Above all, tell them to practice an intimate presence to the beauty and wonder of the natural world."

"Tell them we are not ourselves without everything and everyone else."

Yago: You claim that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought that he started another Copernican revolution, this one related to the idea of perception. What can we know through our senses about external reality? How accurately does the representation of the physical world recorded by our senses portray that reality? You say that Kant proposed a paradigm shift by suggesting that our cognitive state makes possible the existence of so-called external reality. What can you say about that?

Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Dave: Before Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) earned renown as a titan of philosophy, he was an amateur astronomer, and a good one. Kant correctly hypothesized that nebulae are in fact “island universes,” galaxies like our own Milky Way, albeit so remote as to appear cloud-like, their individual stars beyond the resolving power of telescopes of his day. Not until the 1920s did Edwin Hubble, peering through the Mt. Wilson Observatory’s massive 100-inch telescope, prove Kant right, decisively ending a long-standing debate over nebulae.

Kant’s brush with astronomy quickened him to the problem of perception. He concluded that Das Ding An Sich (ultimate reality, literally “the thing in itself”), lies beyond the grasp of perception because our senses and mental structures filter and invariably distort what is sensed. Kant went so far as to speculate: “It is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible.” By reversing the primacy of matter and mind—a perennial chicken and egg question for philosophers--he believed he had initiated a paradigm shift every bit as potent as that of Copernicus.


Yago: What is your personal belief on that? Do you agree that Kant brought a paradigm shift in perception?

Dave: I think that Kant was too far ahead of his time for his paradigm shift to take hold outside of philosophical circles. However, certain implications of quantum mechanics now also call into question the independence of “external” reality from the probing mind, lending credence to Kant’s assertion that the mind somehow participates in shaping “reality.”

But in a broader sense, here we have exposed the root of much human dysfunction. Two rigid metaphysics compete for human allegiance: transcendental monism (spirit first) and materialistic monism (matter first), the former the metaphysic of faith and the latter that of science. Currently they are at loggerheads, forcing many to choose one over the other. As we have said earlier, it is a “tragic choice” that is exacerbating our current crises, particularly, the ecological crisis.

There is, however, a third way: synthesis. I believe that ultimately we will come around to the paradigm shift of Teilhard de Chardin, the outcome of his own struggle to integrate his scientific and spiritual inclinations. Teilhard came to view spirit and matter as two faces of the same coin, faces he termed the “Within” and the “Without.” To Teilhard, every smidgen of matter has a spiritual nature, all the way down to the most elementary particle. It is a view remarkably congruent to that of Native peoples. More about this later.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Yago: Copernicus and Darwin exploded the concepts of space and time. You say that once Einstein tipped the domino of absolute time, other sacred dominoes were soon to fall. Next in succession was the measurement of distance. Could you share with us Einstein’s contribution to our understanding of time and space and how are they related?

Time flow
Dave: Prior to Einstein, most scientists and laypersons considered space and time to be independent and absolute. That is, observers in different parts of the cosmos presumably would measure the flow of time and the span of space identically. Einstein’s theory of special relativity blended time and space into “spacetime” and also revealed that each is relative according to the motion of the observer. Time, for example, does not flow the same for the one who travels and the one who stays at home.

General relativity—really a generalized theory of gravitation—is more stunning. The fabric of spacetime is dynamic rather than static. Spacetime is not like the stage upon which events happen. A better analogy is the spider’s web. The spider and its web are partners. The spiders motions jostle and distort the web, even as the webs fabric makes possible the spiders locomotion. General relativity constructs a web-like cosmos. Space, time, and all events that occur in spacetime are integrally interconnected. Elementary particles, planets, stars, humans and creatures: all perturb the spacetime fabric, sending ripples throughout the cosmic web.

Theory of Relativity
Yago: Another domino to fall was the one related to our understanding of matter and energy. You say that Einstein’s equivalence of mass (m) and energy (E) -- E=mc(2) -- is at once beautiful and terrifying. Could you share with us the meaning and impact of this revolutionary formula?

Dave: Einstein’s famous formula is widely considered the most beautiful scientific formula ever conceived. It’s beauty lies in the fact that energy (E) and mass (m), previously thought to have been independent concepts, are really two different manifestations of the same thing, sort of like ice and water. Energy is liberated matter; matter is congealed energy.

From a philosophical point of view, however, the formula suggests that the material world is not as “solid” as we had thought. We might equally say that we live in an “energetic” cosmos rather than a “material” cosmos.

Finally, the equation is terrifying because of the constant of proportionality: c squared. Here, c represents the speed of light, which is an extraordinarily large number. Square it, and it’s humongous.  Thus, under the right conditions, a tiny morsel of matter can liberate prodigious quantities of energy.  This, unfortunately, is the principle behind nuclear weaponry, which caused Einstein much heartache.

Yago: Einstein was profoundly curious and humble. He said: “all our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.” “What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we are born.” What was Einstein’s happiest thought?

Dave: Believe it or not, Einstein’s happiest thought was that a person falling from a roof would experience weightlessness during the fall! Essentially, this was a replay of a gedanken (thought) experiment by Galileo that concluded that objects of different masses fall to the ground at the same rate, countermanding Aristotle’s belief that heavier objects fall faster. The result implies the exact equivalence of two different measures of mass: gravitational mass and inertial mass. That unlikely equivalence led Einstein to infer the equivalence of gravitation and acceleration, and from this “principle of equivalence” came the general theory of relativity, albeit after more than a decade of gruelling intellectual labor.