Issue 319 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


The interview with Paul Hawken [“Down to Business,” by Renee Lertzman, April 2002] was exactly what I’d hoped to find in a publication that is not beholden to corporate advertising dollars for its existence. I agree entirely with what he is saying, but I wonder if he and many others like him who write and make speeches about environmental issues would be able to practice what they preach: in other words, just to live in one spot in a simple and sustainable way.

It seems that most of these speakers spend a lot of time jetting about the world, probably consuming energy and resources far in excess of the typical American. While he decries the increased use of carbon-based fuels to jet physicians to pharmaceutical-industry boondoggles at Arizona resorts, the introduction to the interview notes that Hawken was just about to be off (by jet, I assume) to a meditation retreat in New Mexico. It seems to me that one could not find a more idyllic place for meditation than a houseboat in Sausalito.

Smith and Hawken, the company Hawken founded, is in the business of catering to an affluent population that craves the best and latest gardening gadgets. I have not gardened since I was a child, but I dare say that the basic tools I used back in the thirties are still available in hardware stores and are capable of doing most contemporary gardening jobs. Do we really need upscale tools? Is that sustainable commerce?

Burk Ketcham Tacoma, Washington
Paul G. Hawken responds:

The meditation retreat in question primarily serves people of color from inner cities who work on social-justice issues, heroes who rarely get to the wilderness. I worked at the retreat as a groundskeeper. I have no interest in Smith & Hawken and have not for twelve years. When I was there, we sold professional tools, not gadgets.

I cannot thank you enough for the interview with Paul Hawken. I object to only one thing: please do not refer to the worldwide protests against predatory corporations and international economic institutions like the World Bank and the WTO as the “anti-globalization movement.” The protests are not against globalization, which has been with us for thousands of years and has contributed to human progress through travel, trade, migration, spread of cultural influences, and dissemination of knowledge and understanding.

A wonderful example of a globalized event is the printing of the world’s first book, which occurred in 868 A.D. The printing press was a Chinese invention, but the content came from a Sanskrit treatise on Buddhism, translated into Chinese by a half-Turk. In fact, it was an example of globalization that involved zero Western input, so it is also a mistake to see globalization as a feature of Western imperialism. It is a far more wide-ranging phenomenon than that.

What we in this movement are against is the current management of globalization from the top down. From the bottom up is the direction we want to go. The issue is distributing economic gains to the wanting parts of the planet.

Ivana Edwards New York, New York

D. Patrick Miller’s “Ending My Religion” [April 2002] is a refreshing reminder that spirituality is a funny and conflicted part of everyday life. His foray into A Course in Miracles reminded me of my fascination with yoga, then later with guided meditation, and finally Quakerism. Each of these paths is essentially a way of aspiring to the good life, health, balance, deep wisdom, humility. (By that definition, I guess Weight Watchers must be a path, too.)

Miller was right on target about people who are on paths taking themselves too seriously. These days I tend to gravitate to the “doing business” part of Quakerism, which involves being open to “the leadings of the spirit.” That is a subjective experience that is best shared in a sense of tolerance and humor, with a respect for the equality of all persons.

Louise Harris Winston-Salem, North Carolina

D. Patrick Miller states that “the most common and serious flaw of contemporary New Age thinking is the belief that human experience is somehow meant to be a brightly lit carnival of optimum health, perfect love, universal peace, and material wealth.” There’s a grain of truth to this, but it’s not a very generous statement.

Oftentimes it is life’s seemingly minor, everyday discomforts that force us to go beyond ourselves: when we have to dig deep into the penny jar to buy groceries; when we’ve blown up at our kids one too many times; when we’ve pined for that dream house or that perfect mate for too long. That’s when we start asking the questions: Why can’t everyone be rich and healthy and peaceful and satisfied? What is going on in our world and ourselves that prevents this?

These apparently vacuous impetuses are often doorways into a world of deeper meaning. To dismiss the reason a person starts — and perhaps stays — on his or her path is to pull the rug out from under someone who may need it the most.

Sun Kim Mount Shasta, California

In “Ending My Religion,” D. Patrick Miller essentially says that Helen Schucman, the author of A Course in Miracles, is “nuts,” but then goes on to expound the virtues of the Course. In my opinion, Schucman displays the classic symptoms of a borderline personality who sees the world around her as a projection of her own impulses and feelings.

Her “spirituality” is a classic defense mechanism for the borderline personality: “splitting” the emotional self into two halves — in her case, fear versus love — and seeing one half as all good and the other as all bad. Though for someone with borderline disorder this can alleviate pain in the short run, it is not at all a healthy psychological — or spiritual — outlook. Spirituality should be about healing, not pathology.

Gary Jones Cumberland, Virginia
D. Patrick Miller responds:

Gary Jones’s analysis of Helen Schucman sounds about right to me, except that there is no evidence that Schucman’s defense mechanism alleviated much pain for her. Everyone who knew her seems to agree that she led a difficult life and openly feared and disavowed the healing message of the Course. While she instructed others on its meaning, she generally refused to apply its principles to her own life. What’s remarkable about her psychological predicament is that it somehow resulted in the Course itself.

I found Zenobia Barlow’s thinking [“Thinking Outside the Classroom,” interview by Derrick Jensen, March 2002] still quite confined to the classroom. I say this having been a high-school English teacher who took his students out into the community and incorporated the natural world into his curriculum every day. I am no longer teaching within our formal educational system, however, and if Barlow really believed in learning outside the classroom, she wouldn’t be trying to reform our schools; she’d be calling for their closing.

No matter how many projects and programs we create, the classroom is still the focal point of our educational system, the place where we begin and end our school days. If we’re lucky enough to have innovative teachers, we spend some of those days on outdoor projects like the Edible Schoolyard. But even if all our teachers implemented such projects, our students would still be simulating our world within an educational setting. We have it backwards. The world should be the focal point. We should begin and end our days in our communities and our natural environment. Only after we’ve done this should we then meet in a classroom to discuss, share, and explain what we’ve witnessed and experienced.

Teachers should never have to plan projects that simulate life. Students should come to teachers with real-life experiences under their belts. I think we’d be amazed at the motivation and natural curiosity our youth would exhibit if they were allowed to have lives outside of school.

Avery Summer Chokoloskee, Florida
Zenobia Barlow responds:

I agree wholeheartedly with the vision Summer so eloquently articulated. The world should be the focal point of education, because it’s where the natural curiosity of young people thrives. To abolish school entirely, however, begs certain questions about the safety and well-being of our communities. Recent research has revealed the tragic consequences of leaving children at risk for violence between the hours of 3 and 6 P.M., and huge efforts are being made to provide more structured after-school programs. At the high-school level, however, it’s more possible to liberate children to experience the world.

I’m a visionary pragmatist. While positing a vision for a better educational future, I work to find leverage points and create hope within the existing public education system, where educational strategies are directed at millions of children and supported by billions of taxpayer dollars. I’d enjoy serving on the same policy group with Summer, discussing ways to completely redesign the system.


Marjorie Nichols intended for her photograph in the June issue to be printed upside down. It was inadvertently published right side up. The Sun regrets the error.

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