The 11th Northern Winter Solstice Epistle

The past has flown away.
The coming month and year do not exist;
Ours only is the present's tiny point.

~ Sa'd Ud Din Shabistari, 13th C. ~

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~ Jalaluddin Rumi, 1207-1273 ~

Photo Ayende Youmans

Launching the Emergence Garden & Sustainability Center where we'll practice permaculture, impart sustainability skills and exchange seeds, planting material and tools.

I'm going to venture a prediction that we will look back at this year as the last normal one, despite the challenges and tribulations that beset us. It may not seem so now, but we will look back at 2008 with nostalgia and longing. We've had a few intimations of what's to come but i daresay most people don't realize just how much life as we know it will change. It doesn't matter whether you're in Kingston, Karachi or Kalamazoo, globalization has seen to it that you will be affected.

Friends in Jamaica were complacently reassuring themselves that they were out of the loop so it would be business as usual. The pundits there said the financial market and economy would be minimally affected, nothing more than the usual fluctuations that could be accommodated, some securities losses and a few tourist cancellations, that's all. Now we see the Golding government has announced a bailout package, for what it's worth. When Golding paid a visit to DC in August or thereabouts, i thought of going to the town hall meeting at the Embassy to ask him what plans he had to deal with the coming crisis. I didn't bother to attend since i doubted that my input would have made any difference, especially as the PM has abjured advice from homosexuals.

The suggestion i would have put forward had i gone was that he should immediately create a Task Force comprising the Office of Disaster Preparedness, and the Ministries representing Energy, Labour, Transport and Agriculture to devise a plan to deal with the end of cheap oil. The adjustments that Cuba made in the Special Period when their oil supply was cut off overnight following the collapse of the Soviet Union holds many lessons for Jamaica.

Take an hour to watch this video The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

I was gratified that Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton visited Cuba and shortly after made his cassava proposal and promotion of backyard gardening. It was a small gesture headed in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough. Food security becomes an increasingly critical issue as Jamaicans depend on imports for most of their food and the Jamaican dollar is grovelling at 80 to 1. Middle class consumers, let alone the poor, will be faced with nutritional deficits and starvation. Having lived through the 70s and experienced rice, flour and cooking oil shortages and the supermarket riots these engendered, i shudder to think what the coming deprivations will spawn.

The developed countries are not much better off as they depend on oil-based inputs and food imports in a globalized economy where the price of oil and commodities is increasing along with the temperature, salinization, desertification and inundation. The oil-rich nations cannot eat oil or cash when global food stocks dwindle. The present US industrial agricultural situation in which the average meal travels 2000 miles from farm to plate and takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy is patently unsustainable and on its way to join finance, manufacturing and housing in sequential collapse.

For a better grasp of all this, i recommend you read The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, one of the most important books around. You'll understand the preke (Jamaican: disastrous situation) we're in. There was a proposal that author Michael Pollan should be chosen as US Secretary of Agriculture. He has modestly declined but remains at the forefront of those demanding reforms in agriculture.

Photo Sylvia Robinson

Libation and sowing of winter rye at Emergence Garden. This cover crop will be plowed under come spring as a green manure to build the soil which is construction landfill devoid of humus.

Though heaven-and-earth is eternal, I won't come into being a second time. Even in a life of a hundred years, the days slip by very quickly. It is my good fortune to have been born in this interval. I must not miss the chance to appreciate my life of happiness, nor allow myself to dwell upon empty existence.
~ Hong Zicheng, fl. 1596 ~


A community-based organization to build awareness of the impact that the end of cheap oil will have on us all. Intention is to bring together a coalition of stakeholders to devise and implement an Energy Descent Action Plan following the Transition model, and to create an intentional community/eco-village.

This is supposed to be the season of good cheer, right? I don't mean to dwell on doom and gloom, though i have every reason to. Having always been of the half-full glass persuasion, i consider the present age the most wonderful time to be alive, and see this crisis, the likes of which has never been seen, as an opportunity to clear the decks and set things up right for once.

The election of Barack Obama to the US Presidency is a great start but all the President's horses and all the President's men cannot put Humpty back together again. All the money in the world thrown at the problem will not solve it. It requires nothing short of a transformation in the way each person thinks and acts. Those in the West, and others aspiring to a Western lifestyle, will need to reduce consumption, conserve resources and live simply, building relationships instead of portfolios. Many in developing and undeveloped countries who manage to subsist on what they can produce without the convenience of electricity and petrochemicals are by the irony of divine justice more prepared to withstand the tsunami of change once they have a secure water supply.

As a memory hook, i used my birthdate this year to call the first meeting of EcolocityDC to begin the discourse along these lines and get the city that i now call home prepared for powerdown. How does a Chiny-boy from Brown's Town have the gall to try and influence the capital of the Western world? I suppose it's my sappy need to be of service and to make a difference and the fact that i've been through the calamities of natural disasters, political upheaval and exile. Being on the periphery has an advantage in affording one a wider perspective and better view of the centre. There is also the Jamaican proverb which says that when fish comes from the river bottom to say alligator is down there, believe him. I've been there and am here to say leviathans await us if we do not change course.

Photo Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Green Jobs Now action in Anacostia, DC where i met the incomparable and hunky Van Jones who was keynote speaker. If you look closely, you may be able to pick me out on the right in white t-shirt Howard Daly brought me from Costa Rica many moons ago, gazing into the sky.

Our message seems to be picking up momentum as we take part in community activities and programs. Barely six months old, our membership is over 300 and growing every day. We have politicians, students, teachers, architects, planners, writers, activists, young mothers, folks from all walks of life but with a common interest in bringing about sustainability. We've tabled at the Pathways Expo, GreenFestival and the monthly Eco/Justice Cafe at the University of the District of Columbia. We're actively supporting the petition for an organic farm to be put in at The White House and we will be part of an Inauguration weekend event when a song written in honor of the new president will be released. You can sign the petition online.

Our next major foray will be to stimulate the creation of a local community exchange with its own currency to cushion the shocks of the economic meltdown and build local resiliency. Folks who know me from the days of SPECTRUM 20-odd years ago will remember we considered the idea of setting up LETS (Local Economic Trading System) even then. I'm in communication with Dr Edgar Cahn, originator of time banking, who happens to live in DC. That's one advantage of living here, besides the excellent public transport system, there are so many resources available.

I encourage you to make a difference, right where you are, in your home, village or community. The Transition model provides Twelve Steps that any group can follow. In a spirit of sharing, cooperation, collaboration and synthesis, which are all necessary to see us through to survival and sustainability, information and resources are available to everyone. Through our outreach and our connection to the US Transition network. we are fostering the spread of the movement to Bethesda and Brunswick in Maryland, and to Brookland, a DC community with its own identity and strong activist tradition.

If you own a car, consider trading it in for a more energy-efficient model and drive less. I take transit or walk and i've bought a bicycle though i don't trust myself enough yet to hit DC streets on it. If you must shop, consider trading something with someone or buying used. Thrift stores and yard sales offer many wonderful surprises, even new brand-name, at low cost but you will also be utilizing the embedded energy in the product all over again. Homes and buildings use up an inordinate amount of energy, so check on your HVAC system, install energy-saving appliances, solar and geothermal if available. Plant an edible garden and share the harvest with neighbors. Eat locally and low on the food chain, meaning less meat and less processed food.

My own small effort to grow stuff indoors. I currently have Italian and Thai basil, parsley, chives, thyme, Romaine lettuce, French sorrel, arugula, chard and aloe vera, known to Jamaicans as singklbaibl. I've also started a worm bin to turn kitchen waste into compost, but i'll spare you those images.

Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual 

Both my books, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing and Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk continue to sell despite the economic downturn.

Prescriptions should have been published in English in India this year but i haven't had confirmation yet that this has been done. The Indian rights were sold as a result of showing at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year. These books are my bread and butter so if you haven't bought yet please do so and support a struggling self-publisher. They're widely available from booksellers and online, but if you order directly, i benefit a lot more and you can have them autographed. Novelty Trading Company distributes them in Jamaica, though with the exchange rate at 80 to 1 i cannot imagine what the asking price is.

A third anthology, Wisdom for the Soul of Queer Folk should have come out this year, but i have been so absorbed with sustainability activism i haven't got very far with it. I'm still planning a series of Jamaican language titles under their own imprint, Chuu Wod, starting with a volume of Anancy stories with a sustainability focus. If you're not aware of my patois website, or haven't visited in a while, check out Langwij Jumieka.

Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk

Despite the appearance of being separate individuals, we are all connected to patterns of intelligence governing the cosmos.
~ Deepak Chopra ~

Really good friends don't write letters to each other, for in the complete trust of each other's friendship, no one needs to write. And after a few years of parting, they meet again and find the friendship as true as ever.
~ Lin Yutang ~
( Not to be used as justification for not keeping in touch, you hear? )

I haven't travelled much this year, only to Boston to speak at Boston College and a short trip to New York City.

Visitors of note have been Frank Chong, formerly of Kingston, now in Toronto, who spent a few days in DC in April. Selena Blake came from NY to interview me for Yardie, a documentary she's making. In November former Xaymaca business partner Gillian Royes came from Atlanta for a last DC visit before she relocated offshore to the Virgin Islands. Dr Kanika Batra of Texas Tech University in Lubbock flew here over Thanksgiving to see me for a book she's writing on GFM and Gaily News, both of which i headed in the 70s. Being both vegetarians, we shared a wonderful meal the Vegetable Garden Restaurant in White Flint where the entire extensive menu is Chinese vegan.

Photo Clark Carter

Reunion in Silver Spring, MD, August 2008, with Margaret Ann Veira (Dublin, Ireland) and Elizabeth Keeling Carter (Baltimore MD). We all attended school at Servite Convent of the Assumption, Brown's Town, Jamaica. I've subsequently set up a Facebook group.

Broadening our attunement beyond the horizons of the individual self ... awakens one to the meaning encoded into existence - a kind of cognitive "super-logic" that reveals a different purpose, a larger pattern, than anything we might previously have imagined.
~ Vilayat Khan ~
I finally got my green card in February, so i suppose not having the prospect of being summarily turfed out hanging over me, i can now afford to invest time and energy in the community. I had wanted to put down roots and join an existing intentional community but the established ones being mostly rural, i realized that would be escapist in the present circumstances. I needed to remain in the city where i could serve a larger population and start an urban one.

Caught unawares at the Community Forklift year-end party. They accept salvaged building materials which they resell at low prices.
Photo Community Forklift

I'm busier than ever, still reading four papers each day online, maintaining ten or so websites, networking in the spiritual and LGBT communities, in addition to the publishing and promotion activities. And now sustainability activism.

I still offer classes and life-counseling as SoulVentures combining my influences and approach under the label I-sight. I'm still meditating daily and I joined the Y and have lost 10 lbs., almost back to the weight i've had most of my life. I have a weird combination of symptoms which prompted me to the ER but the doctors have been unable to identify anything. They assure me my heart is fine though my pressure gets higher than normal and the last blood test indicates anemia. I take it all as a reminder of my mortality and try to get that much more accomplished.

  Not that much chit-chat this time, i'm afraid. The times they are a-burning. Keep in touch when you can. Let go of whatever you don't need in your life. Smile, even to yourself. I hope 2009 will be your best year yet despite what you may see around you. Be your own centre of power and calm.  
  We see our own fulfillment as entangled in that of the people around us. As we find our true calling and live it out, others prosper; and as others fulfill themselves as a community, they provide us with an irreplaceable context for our own unfolding and self-discovery ... Community arises when we discover the interesting, if radical, alternative: finding guidance for our own lives by giving attention to the desires and intentions of others. This is not an obligation, it's a way of being that invites soul in place of ego.
~ Thomas Moore ~

Year-end 2008

These annual epistles have been archived for ready retrieval:
1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

Quotations from Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing

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