MP: Yeah, well first of all I have tremendous respect for Maslow and he was one of the great humanist psychologists. But I think because he came out of a science background, he thought about the hierarchy of needs in a very biological way. You know, first we need food and water and rest and so on and then we can move on to other goals. And it's my experience that actually isn't the hierarchy: the first thing we need in our lives is hope, the first thing. Hope, and the second thing is probably connection. And the third is a sense of meaning. You know, you can have a child in an orphanage that's very well-fed that dies because there isn't enough connection and hope to keep that child alive. And what I found with our group is that we were dispirited people, we were pretty depressed actually, about the world, but that when we started to have hope our lives changed immediately, including people actually got healthier.
You know one of the odd things I do in this book is I argue, I make a mental health argument for activism. I say that we know that the brain functions best when it feels hopeful. And I say if you don't want to be depressed, if you don't want to be addicted to various products, the best way to keep yourself mentally healthy is to be a connected activist where you have a big circle of friends.
Another thing that's been a big mistake, I think, in terms of how activists have been organized in this country is...a lot of times it's seen as sort of a radical business or a grim business. We were polite, we had fun. This is not a state that tolerates any kind of radical behavior. This is a state of very polite, conservative people. So we've had things, like the Grandmother's Apple Pie Brigade, that presents awards to people who act in behalf of the citizens of this state. And we told our governor if he would step up and act right, we would bring him an apple pie. And we've used the apple pies as a big source of rewards. We've had tractor pulls. We've had poetry readings. We had a water festival. Everything we do tends to be about joy and connection and bringing people together around core values and that part has really been very important.
The other thing is we waste almost no time talking about climate change. If someone doesn't believe in climate change, we just move right around them quick. You cannot reason someone into/out of a position they didn't reason themselves into and we just don't waste time with them. We try instead...we assume that almost everyone that shows up at our rallies, or an educational forum, is there because they already believe in climate change and they want to know how they can connect with other people and what they can do. And they want help dealing with their despair. So that's what we really try to do, is give people very actionable intelligence about what they can do and how they can form a group and what they can do with us. And that's been real successful.
You know, I ended up making a distinction in The Green Boat between what I called "actionable" and "distractionable" intelligence. And distractionable intelligence is what I was talking about when I said I don't listen to NPR. When I turn on the radio and hear about the devastation in Iraq, what can I do about that? A private citizen in Lincoln, Nebraska -- what on earth can I do about Iraq? So that is just...makes me feel bad, makes me feel powerless, makes me feel gloomy, makes me feel low. But on the other hand, actionable intelligence is, if I want to influence this particular process, here are the 3 things I could do to have an impact. And that really makes me feel optimistic and hopeful and organized and I have a behavior in mind. Antidote-my action has always been my antidote to despair.
And so I try to give other people action ideas as an antidote to despair. For example, next week I'm going to a city council meeting with another woman and our city council has been very supportive of alternative energies and they've budgeted to help our electorate system have more wind and solar and geothermal energy. So my friend Nancy and I, we're showing up with apple pies to thank our city council for what they've done. Now you wouldn't think an apple pie would be a very big activist project, but we bake a couple pies and show up with carefully chosen words.It'll be in the newspapers. The city council members will never forget us. There'll be TV people there taking our pictures and these simple little things can make a real big difference in public opinion. Furthermore, how are you going to dislike somebody that shows up and gives you an apple pie? It's just not something that's going to incite a lot of hate, from anyone, and a lot of blowback, you know.
Rob: So you talk about the "transcendence response," about the trauma to transcendence cycle. I didn't want to leave that behind because I want to be clear. Can you talk about what transcendence is?
MP: Sure. Well, the word transcendence comes from...the root word is crossing over, the root verb is crossing over. But from my point of view the simplest way to describe transcendence is if your problems are too big for you, you need to get bigger. There's no way if you're problems are too big for you that you can cope with your problems without growth. And what you do with your problems, if you don't grow, is bury your problems. And so there are a lot of different ways to say this. I mean, if you remember in the Jaws movie, there's that very famous oft repeated scene of the sheriff is out in the boat with his friends looking for that shark and they see it, and he goes "We need to get a bigger boat."
That's what transcendence is -- it's getting a bigger boat. And for example, one way people often experience transcendence is after a terrible experience, like the death of a loved one or being involved in a war or something like that, they become religious.They have a spiritual experience and become a very religious person because they need to connect to meaning much deeper than their own little life. And a lot of people, who've been through terrible things, they want to do more than make a living. They want to do something reparative for the world. They want to figure out a way to take all that devastation and turn it into meaning and purpose. So that's one meaning for transcendence.
Another meaning, for me, of transcendence is to feel a deep sense of inner connection with all living beings. And that's what Thich Nhat Hanh talks about when he talks about inner being or we enter our...that's what Loren Eiseley talks about, that's what Thomas Merton talked about, is the sense that we're deeply connected to all living beings.
Now, I had this experience just in a beautiful way. I had been at a spiritual retreat, a silent meditation at Spirit Rock, north of San Francisco. And I got off that retreat and I had to get through San Francisco into the airport and then fly a couple flights across the country to get back home. Now, when I was thinking about that flight home, before I went into the retreat, I was thinking, "That is really going to be hard," because I'm going to be so used to quiet and peace and beauty and then I'm going to be in these loud, crowded airports and in little commuter planes and it's just really going to be hard to go from a beautiful retreat to an airport and airplanes. But' you know, I didn't count on transcendence. And what happened in that retreat is the sense of beauty and peace and inner connection that comes from a week of silence in a beautiful place. And when I got to the airport, I had a totally different experience than I expected. What I experienced was looking at people and thinking, 'My God, does this person realize how beautiful they are?' I literally wanted to hug people. I wanted to tell them, "You have no idea how beautiful you really are and how perfect you really are just as you are." And then, when I got on the plane, I was flying over the Rockies and then the great plains, and I just...I looked down at the rivers and the mountains and the valleys and I was just in a state of wonder. I just could not believe how beautiful it was.
That's a transcendence experience too because it's saying my ego is not what I'm preoccupied with right now; I've connected to something vaster and larger and more beautiful than anything I could imagine. And that could come with activism.
You know, Martin Luther talked about the beloved community. And he was talking about the bliss people feel when they're connected with other people doing something for the common good. So there are different ways to have it, but I've had that transcendence experience both in my group and I have it a lot in the natural world. I really love the"Rob: Now, you talk about group transcendence. Can you discuss that a little bit?