How did you first connect with Pachamama Alliance?
In January of 2011, I attended an Awakening the Dreamer (ATD) Symposium at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Marblehead, Massachusetts, United States, and became a Facilitator Trainer several months later. I challenged myself to take the Symposium to China where I had toured, led friendship tours, lived, and taught since 1983. I had teacher friends at the university where I had taught to help me get started. Also, I could fly to China on standby passes via Delta Air Lines where I had been a flight attendant for 36 years, retiring in 2001.
The past eight years have found me facilitating symposiums, training ATD facilitators, training the trainers, and convening Introductions to Drawdown throughout the country. The going was tough at first as I dealt with political considerations. It became easier after President Xi, who advocates for environmental change, took office. The story of these years will be included in a memoir I am writing about my long adventure with China.
What is a memory or experience with Pachamama Alliance that stands out for you?
I have written the following chapter, A Change in Plans, for my memoir about an event in China I had this past July. A fellow ATD facilitator from our New England Pacha Allies, Sully, and I were staying at a community in Chengdu called Hua Dao Eco Village. We had attended a two-day celebration of the Hua Dao group’s four-year relationship with the Pachamama Alliance. We had also trained nine new facilitators there and convened an Introduction to Drawdown for another Pachamama group in Chengdu called Joy4ever.
What transpired in the story below is not typical of the many experiences I have had in the years facilitating and training in China. This memory is special to me because of its uniqueness, and because it brought me back to the essence of the ATD’s three connected purposes. I hope it shows who I am and my growth in understanding what it means to be a representative of our Pachamama.
A Change In Plans
"Mary, I need to talk to you about tomorrow’s workshop," Wendy Wu said. We had just finished eating Hua Dao Eco Village’s vegetarian fare of homegrown rice, veggies, and yogurt.
"Sure, Wendy, what is it?" I said in response to the concerned look on her otherwise smiling face. I had agreed the day before to a last minute presentation of the Introduction to Drawdown. Hua Dao’s staff and local farming community residents would be the participants. Unfortunately, I had been too preoccupied to ask more about this addition to our schedule because I was flying to Beijing the day after it.
"I just found out some of the local people might not be able to understand Mandarin and might even be illiterate," she said.
"Okay, let’s see what happens. We will have to be flexible."
Wendy’s meaning was clear. Her dialect might not be understood by the elders, and those elders might not be able to read the subtitles on the video. I was used to being flexible in China with audio/visual problems due to different systems, but participants were usually of an age able to understand the country’s official language, Mandarin, and read the Chinese characters. This challenge was new territory for me.
The format of the program, which introduces the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, contained two videos with Chinese subtitles essential for understanding the book’s science. After Wendy’s warning, it seemed the audience of Hua Dao’s staff and local farmers might not be such a good fit for the program. But I had committed to it and wanted to follow through.
I returned to the two-bedroom apartment at the village I was sharing with Sully. I told him what Wendy had said.
"What are you going to do?" Sully wanted to know.
"Just trust it is all going to work out. I have to wash out a few things and start packing," I said, my thoughts on another of my favorite places in China, Solar Valley.
The next afternoon I arrived early to check out the venue. About 30 folding chairs had been set up in front of a large screen. On it, Paul Hawken, Drawdown’s editor, was explaining some of the most effective ways to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. With the audio/visual successfully up and running, I relaxed and helped team members set out snacks of watermelon, cookies and finger food. I was happy to see the porcelain cups for tea and water which were in keeping with our commitment to use non-disposables whenever possible.
By the time we were finishing our preparations, the participants had started arriving. Outside the glass doors, I watched as a woman in a red flowered dress parked her electric motor bike, and her daughter hopped off it. Down the village path, a few older people, a child or two in hand, meandered towards the building. The village staff started strolling in after their noon-day siesta. The adults found friends, took seats, and chatted while others arrived.
The two-room building we were in had been built with workshops and gatherings in mind. Floor to ceiling panes of glass let in lots of light and views of the greenery outdoors. However, once inside, a man-made tree sculpture dominated the center of the main room, demanding attention. The oak-sized trunk and limbs sparkled with a layer of yellow ceramic shards cemented to its structure. It grew up, up, up to a roof where its branches sprouted but were forever limited by the skylight enclosure. Round and round this tree more and more children chased one another as they arrived with their parents and grandparents.
I should mention here the program about bringing down CO2 from the atmosphere geared its contents towards adults, not children ranging from five to ten years of age. Something would need to be done to entertain the kids. After some discussion, the mothers on our team started tearing large poster paper into letter-sized pieces for the kids to draw on. Crayons and color pencils were collected from earlier workshops, and we made a plan to engage the kids.
Wendy invited everyone to take a seat. Almost all of the 30 chairs were occupied, half with adults, half with children.
"Welcome everyone; it is so nice to see so many of you here interested in the environment," Wendy Wu translated. Following the format of the Introduction to Drawdown convener’s manual, I said, "What are your environmental concerns?" I looked to the adults for answers.
The usual responses concerning air, food, and water pollution and their resulting diseases didn’t surprise me. For the past eight years, since I had started taking the ATD Symposium to China, I had been asking the same question. The litany of answers hadn’t changed. The bright side of the exercise let me know most everyone understood Wendy’s Mandarin-one less concern.
At this point, I decided to deviate from the normal program and turn my attention to the children’s upturned faces, searching mine with expectation. Their ages demanded a different question.
Okay: "Children, do you love nature?"
"Yes," they said in unison.
The lit-up eyes of a girl in pig tails begged to be questioned.
"What do you love about nature?
"The trees and the sky."
A small boy dressed in a colorful striped shirt held up his hand.
"Yes, what do you love about the Earth?"
"Well, okay, rockets. Um, what is your favorite animal?"
"I like horses."
And the ball was rolling, with the kids vying for attention about what they loved as I moved from one to another. Their proud caretakers nodded in agreement.
"Can you draw a picture of what you love about nature on these papers? Think about what you just told all of us. Okay?" I asked the youngsters as our team handed out the materials. The enthusiastic children scurried to the adjacent room where a large conference-style table provided lots of space for creativity.
Free now to get into what I perceived as more serious matters, I started to ask each adult what their name was, where they lived, and why they were here. Lulled into hearing Wendy’s routine translations of living in a local community and wanting to learn more about the environment, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
"What is your name, and what do you do?" I asked a man dressed in a Security Guard’s uniform.
"I keep everyone safe," he said. I often saw him, along with the three other men sitting by him, at the village’s entrance where a small shack provided some protection from the hot sun.
"Thank you for your service," I said. "And what do you do?" I asked the three men I had almost not recognized because of the more formal clothes they were wearing today.
"We take care of the animals," one man said, including the other two dressed in button-down shirts. The village had five milking cows plus another cow and her calf, along with several goats, chickens, and bees.
"And why did you come to this gathering today?" I asked.
I looked at Sully, who was sitting a few feet from the men, and we chuckled along with some other Hua Dao employees in the room who just might have been there for the same reason. How much of their hearts were in this? I wondered. If I had known, I would have discouraged "request" and would have asked Wendy to make it more of an invitation. But here we were, about to show the video, so I moved onto the next prescribed part of the program, hoping most of the attendees could read the subtitles.
We showed part of the first Paul Hawken video, stopped it, and as Wendy explained what he was talking about, I assessed the situation. The Drawdown format just didn’t feel right for the audience in front of me. Forget the videos. What could I do? Why not connect with each of them in a deeper way?
I went back to engaging each person by asking more about what they did and about their lives. After each person spoke, I made certain to look deeply into their eyes and thank them for caring about our Earth. I finished the acknowledgement with a "Namaste," pressing my hands together and bowing. I wanted them to know they had been seen and appreciated for who they were and what they did.
When I got back to the animal caretakers, for some reason I smiled and started to move on.
"Mary, you haven’t talked to all three of the men. I think you should," Wendy said.
So I looked at all three of them and said, "I visited the cows the other day. Can you tell me more about taking care of them?"
"We milk the cows and clean where they live."
"Have you given the cows names?" I asked, wondering where my impromptu question came from while watching the resulting surprise on their faces. Connection, it was all about connection, equally so with animals, right?
"No, they have numbers."
"Numbers," I said, "I wouldn’t want to be a number. Would you?" More surprised looks from my captive audience of three and laughter of what I chose to believe was appreciation from the other attendees.
"You could give the cows names," I said with a smile.
"Why should the cows have names?" one of the three men asked.
"Well, if the cows have names, you will probably like them more, and they will know it," I said, thinking I might be going a little too far, but what the heck.
"If the cows know you like them, they will be happier and give better milk. If they give better milk, the people drinking the milk will be healthier."
"Okay, you name the cows," said the man who answered with a twinkle in his eye.
After translating this, Wendy asked me, "Do you want to suggest naming the chickens?"
I ignored her and continued by acknowledging each one in the group with the "Namaste" and thanking them for their dedicated work.
I asked the team if the kids were ready to join us. Thank goodness for the children! We had them line up to explain what they had drawn. Trees, sky, flowers, birds, a dog, a cat, a horse, (but no rocket), all honoring our Earth. The kids were happy. Their parents and grandparents were proud.
We hadn’t taken a break yet, so we pointed out the food and invited everyone to help themselves while we tried to figure our next move.
"How about showing the Eco Spot (Connections) from the ATD Symposium?" I said to Wendy and Sully. The Eco Spot is a three-minute video about how we are all a part of the web of life. It emphasizes how what we do to the Earth and one another, we do to ourselves.
"Yah, that’s a good one," said Sully, "And what about the Wombat? I love that one." The one- minute animated Wombat video was about how we only have one world, not two or three, and how we need to learn to get along with one another. It ended with the Wombat saying "Hit it" to music as his brown, wide-eyed image jumped up and down. Sully loved to do a jig to this part of the video and usually got a good rise out of attendees.
Wendy agreed. After a nice long break, the group gathered again.
The Eco Spot’s subtitles were way too fast, but the children enjoyed the Wombat and Sully’s dancing.
"Wendy, I think that’s about it," I said, so she translated a good bye to the participants. They were having nothing to do with ending. They had dressed up for a longer event and I think they were enjoying it. They wanted more . . . and it turned out Sully was about to give it to them.
He asked the team to find an energetic song, letting Wendy and me know he had an idea. Up Sully sprang from his chair and started dancing. I joined in along with Wendy. The kids jumped in, and soon the adults were in our conga line weaving through the room, around the ceramic tree, ending with joyous laughter. We collected in front of the yellow ceramic tree for photos, documenting an afternoon I had not expected but which had turned out just fine.
Perhaps building cross-cultural community, making shared memories, and simply being seen and appreciated, was just as much needed for the Earth’s healing as learning about sequestering carbon.
What is something you are proud to be doing in service of an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet?
When I look back at the eight years I have been a Pachamama Alliance representative in China, I see how the love generated by the ATD Symposiums, Introductions to Drawdown, trainings, and working towards a common goal have tied us together and provided a feeling of interconnectedness. Everyone needs and wants to be loved, seen, and acknowledged for being alive, and that includes our Mother Earth.
What is something that you would like to see change in the world in the next 10 years?
I am reading Charles Eisenstein’s book Climate: A New Story. As he writes in his books, my hope is that more and more people see and treat the Earth as a living entity in its own right and not just as a resource. My hope is that more and more people see one another and love one another while working towards "the more beautiful world we all know is possible."