CP: How do you personally define the “Local Peace Economy?”
JS: I think there are some profound “fundamentals” that are shifting – that must shift – in order for our culture and our world to be sustainable. The immense imbalance amongst us in resources and access has created unhealthy and corrosive conditions for a great many… and systems seem to be breaking apart under the strain. Any read of political, economic, health-care, educational, correctional systems reveals much to be concerned about. And it feels to me that underneath it all is a fundamental, fear-based sense of separation. It is simply impossible and unbearable to continue to pretend that we are not deeply interconnected. The story of the “other” is unsupportable. As we pay attention, we see that what happens to you, impacts me; what emerges in me is about all of us. And in our fast-paced lives, driven by all these systems and efficiencies, it sometimes takes a backward step - a slowing down - to pay attention. Systems that dehumanize in the service of efficiency are unsustainable. I see a great need to bear witness, lean in, grieve, celebrate and embody the re-humanizing evolution at hand. Many of us are engaging in practices that enable us to embody and enact this inter-being – and I am sensing that this shift is finally mobilizing broad-based support from across the cultural and political spectrum.
Center for Council supports and trains Council practitioners, and builds Council-based programs into organizations and communities. Our intention is to help weave this essential praxis into lives, relationships and systems. We envision a world in which every voice is heard, no one is invisible and all have the opportunity to connect to community. As we come together in Council and celebrate the collective unfolding story, we create generative space for the creation of resources, empowerment of collaboration and deepening of resilience. These qualities are critical for health and wellbeing and represent a necessary course-correction. We can find and live into our destiny together. But we must continue to perceive this oneness. What a wonderful time to be creating opportunities for communities to come together, celebrate and thrive. Indeed, it is a crucial moment to bring awareness and connection as the underpinning of what we build together so that we may heal, coexist and flourish. My sense is that the “local peace economy” is predicated on an inclusive and nourishing community ecology. That’s what my org is working to support. In prisons, courthouses, organizations, businesses and with individuals called to a practice of deeper presence in community.
CP: What prompted you to make moves away from the war-based economy (an economy that currently allows most of our resources to fund wars abroad and doesn’t place enough value on human or community needs)?
JS: The concepts of war and peace can be perceived on many levels. My sense is that militarized conflicts are an outgrowth of an internal schism that occurs on the individual, relational and community levels. As we take a backward step and look inward, we may notice ways in which we negativize discomfort and suffering and project unacceptable qualities onto others and into external situations. Once we indulge in the separation into “us” and “them” we find ourselves in all kinds of conflict and seemingly intractable struggles with adversaries, enemies, “assholes.” We have special categories for the criminals, the old folks, the homeless, the terrorists, the other races… and that leads to a sense that it’s somehow okay to treat “them” differently than “us,” regardless of personal interaction. I see a continuum where an underpinning of fear leads to suspicion to judgments to attitudes to beliefs to justifications to policies and actions that promote violence. I think the downstream conflicts are a result of a failure to show up and deal with our own pain and fear and, for me, that’s the place to start. This invites rigorous and grounded practice in being with shadow in ourselves, and then in our relationships. So I think the conflict begins as an internal one and contemplative practice and bearing witness to suffering feels like an entry point. Perhaps confronting suffering that leads to conflict can help shift away from perpetuating acting out. It feels generative and healing to work on this scale – looking inward, restoring relationships and deepening community – and I believe it’s a necessary step in creating a more peaceful, healthy and cooperative world.
CP: What are some of the key first steps you took to create your vision?
JS: Throughout my life, I’ve been captivated by storytelling. Some years into a Hollywood career, I was introduced to the Council program unfolding at my daughter’s elementary school, in partnership with The Ojai Foundation. After the Rodney King riots, the place was rife with racial tension, frustration and conflict. I watched as the practice of Council was introduced to the students and to the greater school community and I observed a radical transformation of the campus into an empathic, cohesive community of stakeholders. The school community became engaged and unified. It was clear to me that the Council program had precipitated this shift and was leading to a deeper sense of social connectedness through the simple act of sharing our stories. The impact on the children and their engagement at school was similarly transformative and, on a personal level, I believe Council inspired my daughter to find her voice.
Witnessing and participating in that process changed my life. I became a student of the Council process and began to devote more of my time and energy to the work. I became a practitioner and then a trainer, at a time when Council programs were expanding rapidly. As our program’s popularity grew and the necessity of interfacing with a variety of systems beyond schools became apparent (government, corrections, veterans affairs, corporations, health care…), we came to recognize the need for an outward-facing organization that could collaborate with these systems. In 2013, the Board of The Ojai Foundation agreed to “spin off” the Council work and the independent Center for Council was launched.
As Director of Center for Council, I have been responsible for developing and supporting Council trainings and programs locally, and throughout the world, in community orgs and environmental groups, social-profit organizations, social service agencies and businesses, as well as in a growing number of prisons. By sitting in quiet and contemplative sharing, Council participants report that they feel "more heard and seen" by peers, co-workers, families and friends, and they discover a greater sense of community and empathy for those around them, as well as an increased sense of self-esteem and empowerment. They report that they find their voice, discover what truly matters, and take a stand for themselves, their values and their dreams. I have found Council to be a strikingly effective tool for developing and strengthening interconnectedness through storytelling, as it offers experiences that are engaging, empathic and compelling.
CP: What is your message to those endeavoring to become a part of a local peace economy?
JS: I believe it’s all about our practice. I’d encourage us to lean into suffering and develop our capacity to be with “The Full Catastrophe” (as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it). I guess that sounds a bit morose, but I don’t mean it that way. It think honest, heartful presence can feel very grounded and spacious. As we listen deeply and develop the strength and stability and eagerness to be with all of the challenges, triumphs, missteps, connections, heartbreaks and humanity that we all experience, we become more fully present and more able to serve. As Mirabai Bush writes, “We hear we are all here together and we are all we’ve got.”
Practically speaking, a contemplative practice feels critical to me. And we are often faced with the challenge of “taking our practice off the meditation cushion and into the world.” How do we extend this rigorous, disciplined and compassionate work into communities that need us to show up? For me, the practice of Council is an incredibly nourishing, generative and engaging way to be with one’s internal work and to be of service to the world.
CP: Favorite way to participate in the Local Peace Economy that easily can be implanted in the every-day routine?
JS: Well, paying attention, self-care, perceiving and opening to all that is not separate from me and moving with compassion seems to feel right to me. With every breath, with every interaction, I realize that I have an opportunity to open to presence and connection. In order to participate and contribute in any sort of transaction, I need to come back into myself, my breath, my body, my senses and then open to the boundless sentience around me. It’s ridiculous how much I miss! Just driving to Ralphs is an opportunity to perceive and engage so much connection, generosity, need… Personally, I have a few touch-points in executing that particular errand. Leaving my place is a threshold that’s pretty meaningful, stepping into the day, opening to what it lines up for me; the incredible system that is my car is a pretty cool example of cooperation in a system – and then the way traffic actually, impossibly, flows is kind of a marvel; a breath and a nod to the many hands and lives that were part of bringing the stupefying array of goods to my local Ralphs; and then an extra couple of tuna lunches under the passenger seat often find their way to folks who can afford them less than I on the way home.
CP: Any upcoming projects or ways for others to get involved?
JS: I am so excited to see the practice of Council resonating with more and more people. Workshops are a great way to learn about and engage the practice --- and the programs in which Council is being introduced to community-based organizations, faith-based groups, businesses and institutions happen as a result of support of those who believe in this work and align their energy and resources with them. It’s energizing to witness this movement building and spreading.
And it’s so inspiring to see non-profits integrating Council into staff meetings, faith-based groups practicing Council as part of their charitable work, and now 14 (fourteen!) state prisons bringing Center for Council’s programs to leadership groups of paroling inmates – as well as Correctional Officers! Some of this work can be explored on our website. Our org is tasked with raising awareness and creating resources to make this work possible and to weave it into organizations and communities for whom it would be nourishing.
One recent grant enables us to offer a training package to social justice-oriented community based organizations – 20 staff members will receive training and mentoring at no cost. If you are involved with an organization that you think would be interested in this opportunity please do check out the online application on our website. (social justice council project)
This is an extraordinary moment of confluence and we are eager to build the capacity of Center for Council to join with so many kindred organizations to deepen community, strengthen relationships, foster resilience and build a Local Peace Economy together.
Original article can be found here.
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