Make Life Not Death

(Written at the beginning of Covid)

I woke up this morning ruminating on the song “how wonderful life is. How…Screetch…! (add sound effect)! Well, no I didn’t. I actually woke up with water in my eyes thinking “WTF has happened to this world and what does it have to do with me? Is the world as we know it really coming to an end?” I never remember my dreams but I often wake up in moods that tell me I was processing something important. At least something that felt important in the middle of the night during my half awake state. This morning the big IT seemed to be about loss. Covid-19 has opened my heart to fear and loss. This morning my mind was a fog as my eyes welled up with tears for no apparent reason. As far back as I can remember I have always been prone to tears. Over the years I have considered it a malady of some kind and certainly a nuisance. Today it just seemed like sadness. I just let it happen. If nothing else, crying is a release and for me a reality check.

Many times such occurrences have ended up giving me insight but this morning nothing seemed to come to mind. I remembered how taking a hot bath used to settle my mind and body. I haven’t taken the opportunity for baths for several years, but moving to a new residence gives me easy access to a bath tub and I took advantage of it this morning. As I lay there I could feel my body and mind relax. The words “make life not death” came forward.”

Seems like a cliché – But it reminded me of a deep seated value – the life I live is my own. I create my life in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Life is always uncertain. I have no control over that. I live my life and the result is either more life experience or less. I literally have a choice to make life by being open to life experience or to make death by withdrawing into my self and shutting down life experience.

“Make life not death” seems in some ways self absorbing and arrogant when I consider how much Life my life has lived. I have always thought that “touching life” or “aligning with life” is the more proper target. Compared to many other people I have not experienced much death. Socially I am privileged. I have always had what I needed – food, love, and houses to live in. I am not poor. I have not experienced great tragedies in my life. So “making Life” has been relatively easy compared to what so many other people in the world have had to deal with. Because of that I have a sense of responsibility to “make life” and I consistently fail to live up to that responsibility. Perhaps “make life not death” is the same as “Make Love not War”. It seems to have the same sentiment. I never love enough. There is too much to love. The loving never ends.

I’ve always believed that love is what creates Life.

I think I know why I cry now. Making Life is the only productive activity. The only one! And it is fairly common and many times overlooked. It is precious. It is Love. I cry when I fail to Love and it puts me in touch with the tragic loss of new life. A missed opportunity. It is an existential loss which over comes the moment for me. It is a deep well, full of confused thoughts and ungrounded searching. Over time the loss may be (will likely be) replaced by existential love (acceptance) which also moves me to tears. Neither of these experiences seem to be in my control as they are totally dependent on the environment and the other people involved. They often happen suddenly and unexpectedly like the onslaught of covid-19 or the birth of and then unexpected isolation from a new grandchild.

Seems so ironic that having waited so long for a grandchild whose arrival was never a certainty that covid-19 now makes being with her impossible. I love being with Cleo, The energy she generates is precious. She creates life every where she goes – constantly learning and emoting, Making Life not Death. She may be a good teacher (model) for me. Sometimes I “well up” when I think about her and the possibility of not seeing her for a while makes sad me and angry.

How did such a world as this evolve that makes relationships so important in the process of making life? In fact maybe it is relationship that creates life itself and the absence of relationship that makes death. My relationships are what make my life. My relationship with everyone and every thing, even the people I do not know.

Making Life seems to be the same as “Being in Relationship.

Make Life not Death is my new mantra. It helps me focus on looking for that spark of love in any event or occurrence; for the green tips of skinny branches preparing to leaf; for the moment of potential before the turning toward life or death.

Birthday Memory 2019

by Terry Sterrenberg

Some weeks ago I said to Laurie that I realized that In spite of the all the good things, coming to New York and Ganas has been like going to an alien planet. The last couple of years have been particularly difficult. Difficult times always have always nourished inner growth for me.

I was going to begin by apologizing for being relatively silent over the last few years. For some unknown reason I felt I needed to protect myself. Not unusual for me. But this case had unique a feature. I have been in mourning. (mothers death, retirement, new life style, Donald Trump)

When Laurie and I came to New York 4 and a half years ago I unknowingly left behind an important piece of my life and have been struggling . I have been puzzled about this ever since I came to Ganas because I have started a new life several times. I don’t think the newness has ever been this great.

The nuggets that started my awareness of all this in myself manifested when we went back to Salem Oregon last summer. I have a history of writing a journal ever since I was in high school. Most of those journals have been lost in the process of moving over the years. In 1969 I started writing poetry and keeping a journal and when we moved to New York I thought this writing had been lost, but low and behold I found a folder with all my poems. These writings reveal a part of myself I thought I had lost since coming to Ganas. They express my internal struggle with love and death in relationship and the turning points in my life. I have never considered them great poetry but they express significant points in my life and growth as well as ongoing issues I deal with.

Some of you know that I was a minister for ten years. My church experience was not about fundamentalism or simplistic answers to life. But rather it was all about the difficulties and contradictions of living love in the world. Of being that which I was striving to create. To be love in the world as a change agent is always a huge challenge for me, seemed impossible and a recipe for failure.

Some time ago I backed off of that belief, saying to myself that it is a childish belief, life is never as simple as just loving everyone. I’ve never given up love. I just learned that it is not simple. Love as energy of change means taking a stand. As an adult this grounding message of love turned me toward social action and social responsibility. I became a social cynic. I saw in the world that adults for the most part live by different rules than children – loving, sharing, cooperating, are qualities we ask of children but are suspicious of as adults.. In a Trump world love seems to be a ridiculous and absent notion. It seems that problem solving ultimately is not about loving and talking it out but rather who has the most power, strength and intimidation.

Then when I came to Ganas the alien world that I stepped into seemed to require different skills than was available to me. Along with everything else the Trump election brought up all my insecurities. Taking any kind of stand seemed impossible. And what stand should I take? I shut myself down. A familiar tactic. I felt over whelmed, vulnerable, hypocritical and incompetent to deal with the situation. The notion that love can change the world. That love is the energy of the divine in the world became dormant for me. What does that actually mean and and how does it fit in todays world.

Well, Ganas and Fremont Community Village became the answer to that question. For me the vision of Fremont Community Village is partly an outcome of this struggle to live love in the world. It is also an attempt to manifest what we have learned in our travels and research for our movie which is also about this.

The Dream We Choose

By Terry Sterrenberg

With so much going on the thought of not releasing “The Dream We Choose” right now crossed our minds … um, but only for a fleeting second. Truth is we cannot be distracted from the importance of this election. But no matter who wins, the timing for this movie probably could not be better. With all the social unrest and the election coming up we have to have change on our minds. This movie reaches to the core of our American values and how they have been idealized and played out in the model of the American Dream. The Truth of the traditional American dream is that we are given that dream at birth and most of us accept it at face value and in doing so we unconsciously make the choice to continue to manifest a way of life that supports inequality, racism, and oligarchy. There is another choice based on another dream that does not grow out of the “everyone for themselves” mentality produced by the traditional American Dream. “The Dream We Choose” is an offering to the movement that has manifested the tradition of “looking out for each other” mentality. This is a different and powerful American Dream that has been nurtured in the back ground since the beginning our our country to build local communities. Perhaps it is time for it to be more in the foreground with the creation of a different economic system that can create wealth for all and not just the few.

Two Dreams by Terry Sterrenberg

I have come to understand the American Dream in a whole new way. It grows out of  an INNER struggle in each of us between  two conflicting values…views. 

I’ve noticed that throughout the history of the United States this inherent  human struggle has created an American dream with two very strong and compelling traditions.  They have been characterized as two  separate and  competing dreams and histories.  One dream (the dominate dream) is the traditional rags to riches story of pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps.  It stresses independence, self responsibility, and an everyone-for-themselves mentality.  We all can make it if we work hard enough.   This dream feeds our ego and makes us feel confident (perhaps arrogant) that we can do anything we choose,  it can bring us  exciting delicious and addictive stuff, and also feelings of great accomplishment (and great failure). The first dream is based on the ideas of competition, of striving to be better than others, and of working hard to build wealth for oneself.

When someone asks me for money on the street this dream makes me go through the internal struggle, “why should I give this person money- they should get a job and earn it themselves.” 

The second dream makes me feel guilty for not helping them. This second dream recognizes that nothing we have is solely because of our own efforts. It fosters humility, social justice, peace, love, hope,  kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion,  and  openness to other’s ideas.   The second dream feeds connection, creates affinity and invites collaboration. It stresses interdependence, mutual responsibility for everyone, and a we’re-all-in- this-together mentality.This dream is based on working together to building wealth for everyone in our community.

In the first dream we struggle to get by, and when we do well we consider ourselves successful  We shop to feel better. We feed corporations with our labor and our spending, and in return we have convenience and a lot of stuff.

In the second dream we feel success as our relationships with each other guarantee well being for all.  We work together  with integrity to feel better,  We feed our communities with our attention, our energy and skills and in return have all we need to live an abundant life.

I’ve learned in my travels that the dream that becomes real in my life is the dream to which I give my attention and energy.   It is my choices that make that dream come true.   Which dream do you  choose? 

Single Payer? Taxes going up?

Fighting Big Money

So with all the excitement in California and New York about imminent new legislation for state single payer programs, the big question still remains. When is the big money coming into those states to defeat these bills? They did it in Vermont. They did it in Colorado. And they will do it in California and in New York. They will say “How will it be funded” “Single Payer is risky”; “Taxes will go up”; “It is ‘too big a bite’ (coupled with a humongous hamburger on the poster; “The government is incompetent”; “We want choice, not a one-size-fits-all system”. And on and on it goes with the the arguments and insults declaring that single payer is not possible in the United States. All this happens even though the studies show that single payer actually saves money rather than increases spending.

The dis-ingenuousness of these arguments is striking when you actually know the reality that single payer costs less, saves money and has better outcomes in most other industrialized nations around the world. We know this to be true. It has been proven again and again. The argument ultimately is not a financial one. Single payer is definitely affordable (unless of course you believe that Americans are really not as intelligent or clever as all those people in the other countries that have it.)

The problem is, that in order to make their ideological argument sound reasonable, those opposed to single payer need to either lie, distort, or make up the “truth”. The “reasonableness” of their argument is convincing but it is not accurate.

Either we believe that every person deserves medical treatment or we don’t. If we start from the premise that everyone deserves care, then we need to figure out a way to make it happen. If we look at all the alternatives, single payer healthcare is not only the most logical it is the only mechanism that accomplishes that goal.

We need to combat the fear that taxes going up means that we will all be paying more for healthcare. The truth is that while taxes will go up, the ultimate cost to the consumer goes down for 95% of us, because we will no longer pay all the fees connected to health insurance (premiums, co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance, cost sharing). When people say single payer will increase costs, it is true. More people covered for more services will increase costs. However, what is consistently overlooked by the naysayers is the enormous savings that will result from the elimination of wasteful spending on administration, and the negotiation to reduce overpricing of medical services and medications. They deny the magnitude of these savings.

The advocates who have been fighting all these years for universal care are not out-of-touch idealists. They are smart hard-working people who have been studying the issue for decades. They know what they are talking about.

Now is the time to make sure that the truth about single payer is planted everywhere so everybody can have healthcare.

Stuck On An Idea

 by Terry Sterrenberg

“Now Is The Time:  Healthcare For Everybody” is really the rallying cry these days. Healthcare activists all over the country are coming through in a big way.  It is amazing what we have done this past year and it is not yet done.  To be a part of it has been more than invigorating.  I literally feel that I have come back to life in some very real ways and the pit in my stomach that started right after the election last year has begun to refill.  However, even though I have new faith in the American people not to jump off the sinking ship, I am still living in the disillusionment of what this country is and has become and the unbelievable spin of those in power who create “alternate facts” and “Truth”.

Some would say that the creation of this alternate “truth” is evidence of mental illness itself.  It is usually called being delusional, i.e. living in your own reality and not being able to distinguish what is real from what is not.  What is truth to one person can appear to be delusional to the rest of us, particularly if the delusional person is not willing or able to let in new information or to accept all the information that is available.  Does this remind you of anyone in your life?  In public office?   Once you think you have the “truth”, it can be a lot like closing your mind and “getting stuck on an idea”.  After all, truth is the ultimate, once you have it no further discovery is possible.

Getting stuck on a particular idea is considered in some circles to be a lagging cognitive skill.  Being adaptable when necessary, changing one’s mind, entertaining new ideas and compromising are considered evolutionary steps in the development of human beings.  These abilities are what make negotiating, problem-solving,  and establishing and keeping agreements possible.  Without them, individuals (presidents), groups, and political parties become stalemated.  Breaking the deadlock requires the skills of dialoguing  and discussing.

Part of my truth is that being respectful and kind, solving problems, and trying to ensure that everyone has what they need in life is better than hoarding things and money, calling people names, and  ripping people off.  Strangely when people call me names and speak disrespectfully to me I don’t really want to understand their point of view. I believe this is true of all of us no matter what political party. There is of course a whole list of qualities and conditions that most of us can agree upon that makes life better.  Bringing people together, and /or living among people  who treat each other with respect, create these conditions, and who have these qualities creates affinity  and life for everyone.

Most truth is completely subjective.  And because of this, we  can chose our truth at any particular moment. Why not chose a truth that makes life better – that creates  healthcare and prosperity  for everyone – rather than chose a truth that separates and vilifies people?

My mother used to say, “Who you hang around with makes a difference”.  I certainly know that  finding others who share my  truth  makes my life worth living.  I have found my common truth in the community of healthcare advocates over the years.  You folks  are some of the most heart centered and giving people in the world and I thank you for your friendship.

Stuck on an idea?  The idea of making healthcare a reality for every person?  That’s a delusion (truth) I can live with.

WHAT’S NEXT

By Terry Sterrenberg

When we started announcing the topic of our next documentary, OUR New Economy, someone asked us “What are you doing? Are you moving away from advocating for Single Payer healthcare?”  The answer is a resounding NO.

We learned a lot making two films about healthcare. We learned about how the motive to make profits has superseded the notion of taking care of people; about  how profiteering has become the vision and goal of the American way of life; about how  making money has become more important than telling the truth and manifesting common good. About how the idea of getting ahead has taken over the American dream and left many of us struggling.  

Cartoon courtesy David Baldinger

In making those documentaries I learned that the United States of America that I was taught about and envisioned and loved as a child growing up has disappeared – if it ever really existed –  and today in some circles that dream is even being demonized.  People working together or getting welfare is a bad thing (often called ‘socialism’).  

As a child I was taught to believe that society was in a positive growing curve that was based on what seemed to be common knowledge- that people are basically good; That individuals working together produced a common good for all; that racism and prejudice was an aberration that society was correcting and that the government and those in power were working to create a culture that benefited all persons.  In fact, the middle class in this country was the biggest it has ever been in history at the time when I was  growing up.  All seemed to be good. “ Utopia” was well on its way to being a reality.

Making these movies made It clear to us that the beliefs underlying the injustices of the healthcare system in the U.S. just illustrated a much deeper disparity within the economic system itself. Economics is about having access to goods and services.  Most of us have a job in order to make money to gain that access. However in making these movies we became acutely aware that most money went from the many to the few.  When we paid our apartment rent, our car payments, our health insurance, and even when we bought our groceries, our money was going to a few big corporations, i.e. real estate conglomerates, banks, car dealerships, and health insurance companies that kept changing their rules, and could raise prices at any time.  We learned that working hard gave a lot of access (money) to owners and bosses but not necessarily to employees.

We discovered that the ultimate healthcare crisis goes beyond providing healthcare to all.  It has to do with how issues get sidelined rather than talked about, and how communities treat each other in regard to these problems. The general narrative is that access, i.e. money, is available to anyone if that person works hard enough.  Honest investigation and conversation reveals that this basic premise is not true, but instead of using this information to inform us about the problem we tend to blame and attribute personality issues to those who cannot attain access.  Certain groups of people just cannot be trusted.  Certain groups of people are just lazy.  Certain groups of people just cannot and perhaps should not make it in life.  Our national dis-ease is lack of trust and integrity and in many cases lack of compassion. It manifests as an inability to solve problems and hoarding of money.  It is a tragic profound mental health issue no one is identifying or discussing and it may be a life and death issue for our nation.  The way we deal with issues reminds me of a circular firing squad.  

To believe most of today’s TV shows and movies about the future is to believe in a future of oppression, revolution, violence, and confrontation.  Is a dystopian future the only possibility?  

We knew there were other visionary projects leading to more positive futures and we set out to find them.   We did our research and found that there are other economic models that provide access to the good things in life. 

In our next documentary film, OUR New Economy (working title) we take a look at how some communities are solving the ultimate health problems of society itself by moving from the notion of economic growth and development to shared prosperity,   Achieving this economic transformation is the next step we are aiming for, after, of course, gaining universal healthcare in the U.S.  Click here to support OUR New Economy.

A NEW ERA IN THE HEALTHCARE MOVEMENT

by Terry Sterrenberg

The documentary film NOW IS THE TIME: Healthcare for Everybody honors the healthcare activists who have been taking actions for a long time without seeing immediate effects, and gives us hope that indicates that there is a way through once we reach a certain tipping point. The Princeton study clearly showing that over the past twenty years or more, Congress has not acted on our behalf, we sometimes wonder whether our actions will have an impact.

A few brave souls have been plugging away year after year trying to create change, while most other citizens have been resigned or too busy making ends meet to get involved.

The Princeton study results pictured below show that there is a thirty percent likelihood that Congress will pass a law regardless of how many people support the idea.  

This situation points us towards corrective action, i.e. to elect and re-elect public servants who support Single Payer, who do what they say they will do, who represent their constituents, and who are not influenced by accepting money.  But it is still not enough.

The new movement is one of intentional education of citizens and establishing coalitions of groups and organizations that all march to the same heartbeat, a Medicare-for-all, Single Payer system, where we take collective action to look out for one another.

Research shows that having 3.5% of the population actively involved in promoting a particular solution (in this case, Medicare-for-All, single payer healthcare) is the tipping point required for a grassroots movement to be successful. It is not about opinions, and it is not about Congress.

Polls show that 58% of people in the U.S. favor a medicare-for-all system.  That is just a reflection of opinions, not actions.

We are in a new era since the November 2016 election.  People are waking up and putting themselves into action.  This was not happening before.

The Womens’ March in January, 2017 showed a huge groundswell of grassroots involvement, with about 4 million people putting themselves into the movement.  To reach the critical 3.5% of the U.S. population, and create change (whether in a democracy or dictatorship) will require about 11 million people being in action.

Our job is to light a fire under our citizens, and get them activated en masse.  There are more of us than there are of “them”- if we act together.

Money Game

by Terry Sterrenberg

Our Indiegogo campaign to get us started with OUR New Economy documentary went live last week.  We sent out the notice to our mailing list.  You can read the campaign, sign on as a backer and give us a donation here.  Thank you for your generous gifts, and know that truly any level of giving is very helpful and greatly appreciated.

I truly hate asking for money.  Most of my friends are on limited budgets and need to use a lot of discretion in their giving.  That is definitely true for me.  I hate that it is true, but it is. I wish I had unlimited money to give to all the causes on my list of great causes.

I find asking for money ironic while the movie we are creating illustrates how abundance for everyone, i.e. shared prosperity, is possible.

Our present economic system is based on scarcity and – regardless of the promises we hear on TV – it depends on inequality and the illusion that any individual can become a millionaire if he/she works hard enough.

This country allows politicians to legally be paid large sums of money for political favors. Last night Laurie and I went to a Directors Screening of a movie with the working title “Dark Money”.  We all know that “Dark Money” is a thing.  It is money given to an organization such as a 501c4 (charity) which can legally give away 49% of its funding, usually to benefit a political cause, strategy or candidate, without revealing the source of the funds. As a result there is no way of tracking where this money for political favors comes from. It is a way that wealthy people can legally make a huge difference with their money by giving large sums for political purposes such as electing a candidate anonymously.

The name “Dark Money” in my mind is perfect for this mechanism of underhanded and back room dealing.  Everything about it is dark including the hearts of the people who participate in it.

As I was growing up I never thought of money as any color aside from Green. As a child I was taught the necessity of making money was the way to get things I wanted in life.  This was balanced out with a liberal religious education and church life that instilled in me the value that the most profound experiences in life come not from making money but from human relationships and caring for others.  These two elements seemed mutually exclusive and separate.  Perhaps in some way all money seemed “dark”.  Consequently I never learned the “money game” very well.  As an adult I now can see that this “game” has different rules for different groups of people.  People achieve wealth in many ways and likewise people are poor for many reasons and in both cases it has very little to do with them as persons and more to do with their social circumstance, their heritage, and perhaps “damn luck”.

I suppose these days it is only appropriate that my relationship with money makes it difficult to have much.  Ironically,  in spite of owning little I continue to have more access to things than ever before in my life.  So if asking for money for a movie project about abundance is ironic, not asking seems like hiding a very important secret under a bushel. The secret is out.  Money is not on the chart of essential elements for life.