Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting Religion - Arauco "reforms" its strategy on the environment

As a member of Duke's Nicholas School group visiting Santiago to discuss environmental sustainability in Chile a few months ago, I posted the following to the Nicholas School blog. As it has received some comments, I thought I'd re-post it here, as an independent space in the blog-sphere.

In 2004 and 2005, the attention of the World Wildlife Fund, the government of Chile and a local citizen group called Action Group for the Swans was turned on Chile’s Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary and the Cruzes River. In question were the emissions of a new paper mill owned and operated by Arauco, Chile’s leading forestry company and supplier of 6% of the world’s wood pulp. Swans were dying by the hundreds and an intolerable smell drifted down the Cruzes River valley into the town of Valdivia. Independent analysis from WWF and the Chilean government confirmed the suspicions of the locals. Pulp mills bleaching with chlorine dioxide release dioxins and furans that are then absorbed by luchecillo and other waterweeds, a staple in the diet of the migrating black-necked swan. Though Arauco resisted the findings, the plant went through a series of voluntary and forced closings at direct and painful cost to the company profits. At the same time, a public relations war waged on.

Black-necked Swan(cygnus melancoryphus)

Fast forward to September 2006 when this same company wants the world to know they get it. In that month, Arauco’s Nueva Aldea pulp mill began operations as an embodiment of lessons-learned. Engaging community stakeholders at the outset and building a state-of-the-art mill whose emissions are so benign, the company added a vineyard and olive orchard next door just to prove the safety of the effected soil and water. None so righteous as the recently converted.

We spoke today to Charlie Kimber, vice-president of marketing and sales for Arauco. It was clear in his characterizations of the Valdivia fiasco that he and his company had been through a powerful experience. Mr. Kimber spoke with conviction about the err of Arauco’s ways saying that “we had a very bad attitude” in dismissing the local community and their concerns. According to him, Arauco had since embraced their responsibilities as a global and local corporation. “Being global starts at home,” said the reformed executive. Still, a tinge of victim-hood remained in his tone as did hints that the company was innocent of any wrong-doings beyond their “bad attitude.” So one might fairly question whether Arauco has discovered a fully authentic sense of stewardship for the land and waters they use and the trust of communities on whom they depend for their business.

What is clear is that Arauco has embraced a message of sustainability and is investing aggressively. Nueva Aldea is just one component of an overall sustainability strategy that includes an assessment of the company’s full carbon footprint including everything from source materials to processing, operations and transport of final products to their destination. Through these and similar programs, Arauco may be setting the standard for triple-bottom line sustainability amongst forestry companies in South America. Yet the court battles and controversies over other plants continue. So just how real is their new-found environmental responsibility? Moreover, to what degree do we care whether Arauco’s leaders have had a true conversion or simply responding to market pressure?

The black-neck swan is still waiting. In addition to pursuing their environmental responsibilities in the large, Arauco needs to address the damage to this bird population by sponsoring a recovery strategy in the region to create and maintain habitat. Only action matters. Aruco has yet to fully own their responsibility to the ecosystems in which they operate. Watchdog groups must stay alert to greenwashing. So long as Arauco maintains a brisk and steady march to the promised land of full sustainability with accountability, transparency, and scientific rigor along the way, we will celebrate their transformation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

String Theory

Turns out finding time to blog while in Chile was a challenge. What a shock, sitting and typing at my computer just couldn’t compete with the tug of adventure. So I took a few quick notes and decided to gather them up on the plane ride home. Welcome, then, to my “Patagonia Playback.” (Okay, it's more than Patagonia, but I liked the alliteration.) I'll be dribbling these posts out over the next week or more, so just pretend I'm still there and giving you the play-by-play.

As our meetings with various environmental and government organizations didn’t begin until Monday, we had Sunday to explore Santiago. The weather was perfect so it was off to the Pre-Columbian Art Musuem just off the central plaza. Inside it was cool and provided a comfortable environment to enjoy the excellent exhibits. Maps and cultural period timelines gave context to the descriptions (Spanish and English) for each display. The museums' website might give you a feel for the quality of presentation. I was surprised to learn just how far back these civilians rose (5,000 BC by some estimates). The detailed craftsmanship of the some of the pieces was remarkable.

My favorite display was that of a Quipu, an artifact of the Incan civilization used to capture accounting, events, and even stories and poetry. Only problem is no one has been able to translate the meaning of the knots into something we can understand. We lack, in other words, the "Rosetta String."


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome to Santiago, Chile

I came to Santiago because I could. The folks from Duke's Nicholas School for the Environment invited alumni from our program to join them on their field trip to study environmental, social and economic sustainability in Chile. Without thinking hard about it, I said yes. So here I am, blogging after midnight from the lobby at the Ritz Carlton (this is Duke after all). It’s only two days in and already I’m charmed sockless. This is a new world city, mixing in art and archiecture elements of European tradition and Latin contemporary all in a spectacular landscape beneath the towering Andes.

We arrived Saturday morning after a long overnight flight from Atlanta. One might think my regular sitting practice would make me good at sitting itself and one would be wrong: ugh. Not to worry, Ritz and Carlton are here to help. Complete recuperation was systematically accomplished through a morning in the hotel spa’s steam room, sauna, pool, hot tub and roof-top deck.

Considering my definition of a great hotel room is one on the far side of the interstate with some distance from the ice-machine, this place has me a bit unsettled with its big feather beds, world-class spa and young, beautiful men in top hats (not named Ritz or Carlton) opening every door as I approach. Still, I’ll find a way to cope and suspect my sense of entitlement will coincide with my departing flight. Falling asleep on the deck in the bright afternoon sun, I sunk in. The fall weather here feels a bit like San Diego: bright sun, deep blue sky, a little too warm and relief in the form of an occasional breeze.

Sunday we ventured out into Santiago visiting the Pre-Columbian Museum, National Art Gallery and some local markets. We had our first meetings today, including a discussion with the head of a Terram local non-profit focused on environmental policy and social justice, former Chilean President (!) Dr. Ricardo Lagos and dinner with local Duke alumni. Later in the week, we'll be heading up into the mountains for a first-hand experience of Chile's ecotourism. Our group is posting to the Nicholas School's blog so you can follow the official sustainability course there. I'll be more casual here (for I have no course credit to worry on) going deep on all of these amazing experiences, museums, markets, meetings and more, in upcoming posts. Suffice it to say for now that trips mixing education and vacation are the way to go. I’m a delighted sponge and already certain that departing flight will come too soon.

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At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds really cool, Kristin. National Geographic just did an article about Santiago. I like your Blog site, very nicely done. Sounds like you are doing well. If you ever pass through Chicago look me up. Mark K.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Point One of the Seven Points of Mind Training (Lojong)

There's a Kalyana Mitta group, or "KM Group," that meets regularly at my house. In the Buddhist tradition Kalyana Mitta might translate to "spiritual friends." We are there to support one another in our practice and on our path. We meditate and then share our daily lives, our struggles and victories. When we talk we use the Mindful Dialogue technique which employs a talking stick or stone and where create space between shares and aspire to hold a space of listening, support and self-awareness. As my mentor and friend, La Sarmiento puts it, the mindful dialogue tecnique asks us to bring the practice we use in meditation to "conversation": rest in awareness, watch what happens, resist nothing, hold a gentle heart.

As a way to support each other on the path and bring a dharmic perspective to any struggles, our KM group has decided to walk through some Buddhist teachings. We're currently exploring Pema Chödrön's Start Where You Are which covers the "slogans" or teachings of the Seven Points of Training the Mind (Lojong). We all love Pema and wish she would join our KM group. Reading her books together is probably as close as we're going to get.

So, as a sample of our exploration, to give you a sense of what Buddhism is andi is becoming for me, I present a summary of the first few chapters covering Point One of the Seven Points of Mind Training followed by my personal reflections. Within the summary, I've elaborated a bit (in italics) with a personal aspiration that will help me to remember and put to work each of the slogans.

But first, a note on lists. Buddhists love their lists. The Buddhist sutras (or official teachings) are full of lists: the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, the seven points of mind training, the three poisons, etc, etc. Someone finally pointed out to me that this was necessary as Buddhism was for so long an oral tradition. To understand a concept (the path, the mind trainings), a list was the only way to make the teaching whole. Makes perfect sense now.

I've started to see the ways in which these concepts interrelate and cross-reference each other. So as I summarize Pema's teaching on point one of the seven points of mind training, there will be references to other Buddhists teachings, some of them fundamental. I won't explain all of those here (and there is a decent chance I got some of it wrong!), so if you're new to Buddhism, some of this won't make much sense. Instead, hang with what does make sense and let the rest go.

The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind (Lojong)
From Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron

Point 1: The Preliminaries, the Basis for Dharma Practice

Point one covers sets the foundation for mind training: The Practice (as in, the meditation practice) and The View (this is the Buddhist way of seeing reality and is the first aspect of the 8-fold path). Pema describes how the The View relates to the buddhist concept of absolute bodhichitta. Given the translation of "bodhichitta" as the “awakened heart,” absolute bodhichitta emphasizes the awake sense of the awakened heart: opening up to the the full scope, confronting the Big Reality and contemplating unfathomable truth of the universe. So here we have in Point one, the foundation, The Practice and The View:
  • First, train in the preliminaries.
    Shamatha Vipashyana practice – consistent, ardent meditation practice is the foundation for the path.
    If I ground myself in anything, it is the practice.
Absolute Bodhichitta: The View
  • Regard all dharma’s as dreams
    Solidity is illusion, each situation passing memory.
    The practice is precise, even ruthless. Within that precision, I explore and acknowledge with a warm and gentle heart.

  • Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
    Even this “I” is an illusion.
    I contemplate the nature of this one who hears these words, is aware, has insights, “understands.”
  • Liberate even the antidote.
    If I think I understand “Regard all dharmas as dreams” and/or “Examine the nature of unborn awareness,” then, well, think again.
    Objectify nothing. Free even the understanding of emptiness.
  • Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
    This slippery place in which the mind feels deeply insecure is a wonderous place. It is reality. Rest there.
    I return to and relax in open, spacious, wordless, formless presence.
  • In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.
    Off the meditation cushion, in the rest of your life, continue the practice.
    I call myself on a path as I carry the awareness cultivated in meditation into daily life, in all of my relationships, activities, directions and intentions.
In this section, Pema also presents the three aspects of bodhichitta as compassion or the loving and gentle heart, prajna or wisdom-mind and shunyata, the emptiness of any inherent existence.

Thoughts On Point One

First, I love it that the seven points of mind training start with the fundamental requirement of meditation practice. What catching and throwing are to baseball, football, and, the highest form of sport, ultimate frisbee, meditation is to Buddhism. Pema and the lojong teachings don't let us off the hook: if you're not meditating, Buddhism is mere entertainment, perhaps even a philosophy, but not a way of life. If you're not meditating, you're a spectator. That might sound harsh, but I think it so ... but wait, is that the long-ago voice of my dear friend and teacher, Rhonda Williams, I hear? "None so righteous" she said, "None so righteous as the recently converted." Indeed, exploring the teachings in text and in discussions is a place on the path, the first place, a precious place. Okay, I take it back. But I will say that for me that place has an end and at some point I commit to the path and, in so doing, I commit to a daily practice. And if I falter, I recommit again.

Second, the rest of the slogans in this section, those that together illuminate the concept of absolute bodhichitta, blow my mind. And this seems exactly what they are intended to do: to shake my sense of certainty about the way I see the world; to call into question what I think I "know;" to call into question thinking itself; and to actively re-engage in wonder, wonder without conclusions, at the most fundamental level.

While she hasn’t gotten to it yet, we know that the other dimension of bodhichitta is relative bodhichitta, the heart aspect of the "awakened heart." This is our fundamental connectedness with each other and all of life in this field of formless presense, the stuff of natural compassion, how it is that we care for each other in order to care for ourselves.

The concept of bodhichitta is fundamental to the Mahayana Tradition of Buddism: the open mind and the open heart.

From my read, the two dimensions of Bodhichitta (absolute and relative) and three aspects Pema describes here (compassion, prajna and shunyata) significantly overlap:
  • Relative bodhichitta and compassion are associated. This is the soft and gentle heart sense.
  • Absolute bodhichitta and shunyata are also associated as the vast, open, emptiness sense.
  • Then the third aspect of bodhichitta, prajna, is the clear and sharp even ruthless view of reality. It is this third aspect that informs a core willingness to see the other aspects, (indeed all things) as they are, even as we don’t understand them, even as they don’t really exist.
Huh? Yep, Buddhism flips me out. But it’s hard-wired lack of certainty, the fact that it makes no ultimate claim on reality (indeed, absolute boddhichitta puposely disavows any understanding of objective reality) is exactly what gives me comfort, makes me feel at home in its teachings. It’s what Einstein was pointing to when he said he mistrusted any system of belief that didn’t have a built-in mechanism for calling itself into question. Or when he said that there is no conflict between science and religion when each is properly understood. Buddhism states upfront that we are inherently limited, declaring that we, even the Buddhas among us, will not know the mind of God. Yet at the center of our being and edge of our understanding is our Buddha-nature. From that place, we are at peace, in harmony with our world, inherently interconnected, unattached (in the most beautiful sense), authentically in love with the world and able to truly help others. I’m only a beginner on this path and don’t even understand half of what I just wrote. But the shit really rocks my world. Something in me, a place beyond words, deeply resonates and hungers to learn more, to continue on this path.

I feel so fortunate to have come upon the Dharma, the Buddhist view of life and truth. I am so very grateful to those, including Pema Chödrön, who have devoted their lives to the discovery, enhancement and transmission of the Dharma. And I am equally grateful to my KM group, my sangha, my spiritual community for sharing and exploring the path with me.

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At 2:57 PM, Blogger madyabyum said...

I'd love to follow your blog as I was hoping to write one myself with similar intentions but I can't find a link on your site to add you...

At 11:10 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

Depending on your technology of choice, you have different options. Using the white box up top (below "About Me"), enter your email address to get new posts directly to your inbox. Alternatively, connect to my feed using a reader by clicking "Subscribe to my feed." You can also add my blog ( to your blogger dashboard if you have one. Let me know if that's not what you were looking for.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's see, last Tuesday ... where was I? Oh yeah ...

Here it is, a bit overdue, Kristin's 2009 Presidential Inauguration Report. At this moment, I survey my self and find I am still tired , still happy, relieved, elated, inspired and a bit disoriented ... for after a week like that, what do you next?!

My friends from the New Mexico campaign (a mix of staff and volunteers) started showing up Thursday before the Big Day. I felt privileged to show them my funky neighborhood including the ethnic restaurants and unabashed diveswith great hip-hop DJ's. We did the "We are One" concert on the Mall on Sunday (where at one point, the crowd got so tight that I felt in danger of literally becoming one with several strangers). The HBO/Inauguration Committee botch of the Gene Robinson opening prayer put me in a tizzy but didn't overshadow the exuberance of the moment. An early afternoon party around the corner from my place (networking for those staffers moving to DC) was quickly followed by my own party later that evening (I love it when friends apply me with their wines and their playlists). Monday was a bit of a rest (okay, recovery) before the next day's early morning wake up call. We did make a mad dash for Dupont Circle at 6 pm where Kate Clinton was holding a Sage-Out, administering the Lesbian Power of crystals and herbs to rid our town of the bad ju ju accumulated over the past 8 years. For me (who takes this stuff not seriously), I found it so fun and the closing song surprisingly touching.

We greeted the next day, Inauguration Day, with a mixture of excitement and battle-readiness (but, like, a kind battle where you have no enemies, keep each other warm and help everyone win). Alas, our group of 10 fell pray to the PIC planners' missteps and miscalculations. After we endured the 6-hour, purple ticket holders' tunnel to nowhere, we were ultimately fragmented by the push of the remarkably friendly but still pressing crowd. With three from the fellowship remaining (apologies for the nerdy reference), I made it through the purple gates of hell only as Obama was being sworn in. So it was with a tinge of frustration and regret that I witnessed The Moment and The Speech apart from our full group, nowhere near our ticketed area, on an tree-obscured Jumbotron and over distant and muffled loudspeakers. Worry not for Diane Feinstein says she'll make it up to me and my friends with a collection of limited edition as-seen-on-TV Barack Obama commemorative "Victory" plates (or something like that). Yet we all quickly recovered, heartened by our collective experience as still part of something awesome. Later that night, I happily passed on my ticket to the Youth Ball (for I may be "young at heart" and some would say "immature" but there were many more deserving and qualified for the position than I) and instead joined local friends at Station 9 where we danced-danced-danced.

Bonus Round: Wednesday night removed any last trace of I-Day regret with the Staff Ball at the DC Armory in SE. Both the Obama's and the Biden's addressed the crowd and were jovial and remarkably lose.
Photo by Linda Leu, New Mexico Campaign Staffer
I generally hate name dropping but I must say it was incredibly cool to hear from David Plouffe (that guy who stalked you with emails throughout the campaign he orchestrated and refused all press interviews).

By Thursday evenings all of my dear compadres were gone and my household was back to Corky and me. But no stopping just yet as I took off Friday afternoon for a weekend Buddhist retreat in Maryland. Although initially resisting the timing, I promptly took up the opportunity to go deep into silence like a warm shawl.

I have to add that one of my favorite moments was picking up Wednesday's Post and seeing this on the front page: Rob Emanuel in the Oval Office facing an Obama who was, relaxed and listening, seated behind that historical desk!!!
Photo Source: The White House-Getty Images

I was deeply struck by it's normalcy. This is our President. He's already ticked me off and at least confused me a few times and I expect that. But to trust the intentions, intellect and temperament of my President is not only a welcome change but a beautiful thing in its own right.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama on Religion-Politics: How a President just might help heal a family

After recently discovering this speech from June, 2006 and as someone who's family has become polarized over religion-politics, I'm considering the idea that Our New President may provide some healing amongst my own brothers and sisters. No melodrama here and I'm not kidding. This is long, but for those interested in the topic, more than worth it.

Keynote Address from the Conference "Call to Renewal: Building a Covenant for a New America"
Barack Obama, June 28, 2006, complete text.

Video excerpts are avaliable on YouTube. Here's the first:

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Sold Out

In response to the Rick Warren selection, here was my letter to President-Elect Obama (posted retroactively to sheepishly catch up my woefully behind blog).

To US President-Elect Obama,

It seems I've been sold out.

What I so strongly and overtly supported in this Campaign for Change was competent, transparent governance, a restoration of our constitution, cooperation on critical international issues and the vital need to move beyond ideology in how we run our country. Yet in the selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at this historic inaugural ceremony, you voluntarily promote one of the most dramatic examples of "the politics of division" which you so forthrightly campaigned against. His overt support for California's proposition 8 reveals his ignorance of the exemplary morality of committed same-sex couples and is a direct threat to the separation of church and state.

As a full-time volunteer on your campaign in a swing state for 3 months and as an out lesbian, I am deeply disappointed by this decision.

And now I find myself needing to clarify the fundamental argument here to you and the members of your staff and upcoming administration. I am about to defend my own morality (sigh). Homosexuality is not a choice and it is *as moral as* heterosexuality. Denying my homosexuality and subjecting my family and community to all of the sociological and psychological fallout of such a denial, now that's immoral. I don't deny anyone's right to think me immoral and worship in a church that agrees, but they cannot lawfully deny me my civil rights. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" must apply to to all citizens.

Your message to me is that civil rights matter but not mine. Unity matters, but unity doesn't include me. We must educate and promote fidelity to the constitution, except when political bases can be expanded (for it is only political calculation, a cynical interest-groups-trade-offs analysis, that seems to explain your decision). Your defense has been a repeat of the "we need not agree on everything" argument. But this isn't working across partly lines of representatives, you have actively selected Pastor Warren to open the spiritual tone of your administration. Such explicit action discredits the very themes that motivated me to serve in your campaign.

Here's how you make amends: 1) see to it that Pastor Warren's remarks are thoroughly screened and confined; 2) in contrast, encourage Rev Dr. Joseph Lowery to explicitly clarify the moral argument for gay, lesbian and transgender rights in his benediction and, most importantly 3) use the first 6 months in office to aggressively push for equal treatment under the law for our country's hard working, law-abiding, gay, lesbian, transgendered citizens. Finally, if so moved, you might remember that part about promising to admit your mistakes.


Kristin Barker
Washington DC resident, full-time volunteer in the 2008 New Mexico Campaign for Change.

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At 10:42 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

After seeing this letter, some questioned whether I regretted my service to the campaign. Absolutely not. He's still my guy and, moreover, I consider it an obligation of my citizenship to be clear (and constructive) when I believe he is mistaken.