Seeds | Semillas #11 Sep-2020


[ en Español ]

In this issue: The theme of this issue of “Seeds” is crisis. Crises abound in our present world, they probably always have. Covid is one more in a long series, including rapidly collapsing environmental systems, the ever-present threat of nuclear weapons use, abuse of political and economic power, and of course our own personal crises. Various such crises are addressed by the writers of the articles in this “Seeds”. All look for solutions to the crises they discuss and in one way or another they offer a hopeful way forward. May we each find insight for facing our personal crises and those we all share.

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Dealing with Fear in Times of Crisis

by Marie-Caroline Vallee

When things happen according to plan, such as when we do well in our job or everything is going well in our relationships, we are so happy, but sooner or later, there is always something that seems to spoil this happiness. We may take it personally, thinking that something is working against us and only us, but this is only our perception.

Everyone experiences many crises in a lifetime, and some can be difficult to overcome. They can throw us off balance, they can shake us. It could be something that is happening that we don’t want to happen or something that is not happening that we want to happen. We experience crises on many levels. It can be in our personal life, from insignificant problems, such as missing a bus, waiting too long for an appointment, losing a prized possession, or something more significant, such as an accident, an illness, or a job loss, that affects us directly or somebody we love. It can also be on a larger scale, affecting many people in the world, like a war, an earthquake, a pandemic. And sometimes, we can even realise that because of this larger scale problem, we forget about our personal little drama. But what about the mental crisis, the suffering that arises from our mind, from our thinking, our assumptions, suppositions, worries, that make us believe we are facing something insurmountable?

I have been through a number of different crises that seemed important to me at the time they happened, but were sometimes insignificant, sometimes more important. The more I evolve and experience life’s challenges, the more I am realising that many of them were only coming from a lack of awareness. I would like to share one of them with you to illustrate what I am going to explain later:

When I went to Nepal in April 2015, I fell in love with the place and its lovely people. I started opening towards a field that I did not know. On the last day of my journey there, on April 25, it was almost noon. Even though I wanted to go back to the temples for a last visit, my friend convinced me to come with her to the market and to share a last moment before taking my plane that evening. We enjoyed that lovely time. I had spent all my remaining local currency because there was no reason for me to keep it anymore.. We were sitting on the top of the stairs leading to the main building, enjoying the market delicacies when I heard a sound coming from afar. A tremor sensation arose like a train coming my way. I said to my friend : “What is this?”, but she could not feel what I was talking about. I looked at a man who was sitting a few stairs down, and I saw his scared face looking at the roof above me. The ground started to shake, and the sound was getting louder. I ran down the stairs, thinking that the building was collapsing! When I reached the bottom, the ground was still shaking. Instinctively, I took the hands of a woman beside me, and we were observing the ground moving like a boat in a storm, the water of the nearby pond splashing onto our legs. I looked up at the sky and thought it would be my last breath. It lasted 55 seconds in all, a never-ending 55 seconds. A huge cloud of dust was rising in the sky and thousands of crows were croaking and flying around. The floor started to calm down. It was time to either find a better place in an open space without trees or cars as the aftershocks would come soon. Any action I was taking from that point was a fearful reaction resulting from scenarios created by my mind: “If this happens again, could I be killed while crossing the street?” or “Will I be crushed going under that bridge, if it collapses on me,?” or “Will I die going over it?”,… I had to make my own decisions, taking my own risks while my mind was unbalanced, creating more danger than providing security.

A few hours and aftershocks later, and still frozen by fear, I could not go back into buildings to help other people saving people stuck. Of course, my flight had been cancelled and it would have been impossible to reach the airport. What to do? Before the night arrived, I decided to sleep in the street, in an open square at the centre of Kathmandu, as I was too scared to sleep inside. After the darkness of the night arrived, it was too late to change my mind. As the electricity was gone in the whole city, it would have been too dangerous to move around with chances of another aftershock. So many Nepalese people had lost everything. I was surrounded by families. Some locals even offered me a place on their cardboard so I would not be cold from contact with the floor. As the night crept on, the atmosphere became more obscure; there were people under the influence of alcohol or drugs … I did not sleep really. When a man stood staring at me from above, I prayed he would do no more than stare, and I pretended to be asleep. Everyone was very tense. It was raining, and the slightest movement made the people panic. Hearing the crows croaking was a sign that an aftershock was coming. Everybody was screaming full of fear before it even started. When there was the first sign of daylight, someone started to pray loudly and everybody joined him. It was a relief! I had no water, no food, no money, but a lovely girl took the opportunity to help me and gave me some chips & water.

It wasn’t until two nights later that I was able to reschedule a flight. I felt relieved and lucky to have the possibility to choose to leave the country. Back home, I understood even more the catastrophe of this event. The earthquake was of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale. It killed 9,000 people and 22,000 people were injured. It took me a while before I stopped feeling guilty for leaving everybody behind. I helped monetarily from abroad but I still felt I hadn’t done enough. I developed severe anxiety over anything that triggered my fear: storms, earthquakes, plane crashes, you name it. Even going over a bridge and feeling the slight shake of a bus passing by was scary. Or, in a crowd at an open-air festival I would see myself looking for a way to escape if the temporary roof collapsed. I imagined endless scenarios that could go wrong, and envisioned how to protect myself.

In fact, a disaster close at hand or in the larger world can happen at any time; we cannot predict it. Living in the worry that it could happen stops us from living, and causes us to create unnecessary suffering for ourselves.

Two years later, I decided to go back to Nepal, to see again the lovely people I had fallen in love with and to try to overcome my fears. It was only when I came into contact with the practice of meditation that I understood that my mind was spending its time in the past where there is nothing I can do to change it, or, in the future which does not yet exist, and so there is nothing I can do about it.

Every event of my life, even those that seemed unfair, sad or terrifying, have pushed me in a direction I would never have taken without going through them, they allowed me to go further in my understanding of how to live life to the fullest. With meditation, I have learned how to observe my mind and how to become aware of the sensations, such as rapid heartbeat, heavy respiration or clammy hands, created in my body in response to fear or scenarios. Observing these sensations and understanding their temporary nature, the fear disappears by itself.

Real fear exists when facing an immediate danger such as an attack, an earthquake, an accident, the announcement of a disease,… This is an instinctive reaction that enables us to make decisions for survival. But, the “fear” that we generate in our minds, about what could happen to us or to somebody we love, is not true, it is not something that exists in the present, but only a projection of the future about which we can do nothing and which most likely will never happen. In fact, our mind is so much conditioned to believing in these projected scenarios that it does not recognize when the “fear” is unreal. And, as we feel the same types of sensations in our body, we react by experiencing the fear as a real threat.

When we experience crisis on a larger scale than personal life, such as the current pandemic, there is a collective fear, strengthened by the media, continually reminding us how many people have died, and in such terrible conditions. We can easily be absorbed by these ideas and they strengthen the fear and anxiety we may already be experiencing at a lower level. Thus, at the individual level, we experience even more fear.

Objective awareness is our key to letting go of all the thoughts that come through our mind, which may be self-generated, or that are not only ours to begin with. Crisis gives us the opportunity to realize them and to become aware of our ego.

If we experience symptoms, there are 2 choices :

  • Creating scenarios of our mind: “I have a virus, maybe it is covid, am I going to be ill, am I going to die?” The fear can rise with ease, making us suffer.
  • Staying aware of the present: “I am experiencing symptoms, but I am alive and I feel good in other places of my body where there are no symptoms.” Fear if it has already arisen will disappear.

Indeed, the pandemic is affecting many people, but in this moment, while you are reading these lines, there is nothing to fear, we are breathing, and we are alive, in the present moment.

While real fear can save us from immediate danger by enabling us to take quick action, the fear coming from scenarios created by our mind’s activity brings only suffering and unhappiness. If we become more conscious of our thinking mind, we can reduce our unhappiness considerably.

It is important to reduce or eliminate the fear, anxiety, anger, depression, or despair that we experience by asking ourselves, when we are in a crisis: “Is it really something happening now or is my mind creating a story on what could potentially happen?”

PS: As my Nepalese friend told me the day after the earthquake : ” Don’t worry, be happy!”

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Bats, and their Presumed Relationship to Coronavirus

by Richard LaVal

Many government agencies and even private scientific organizations proclaim that we should not handle bats for fear of transmitting covid-19 to the bats. And of course, the media widely reports that bats were the source of the virus.

As is becoming clearer every day, these conclusions are based on false assumptions. First, where did covid-19 originate, besides simply in China? The Chinese now admit that it did not originate in the wild animal market in Wuhan (where bats were not sold, in any case), but if they know where it did originate, they are not revealing the information, probably for political reasons. Based on my reading, the evidence gets stronger and stronger every week that the virus originated in the virus research lab in Wuhan, based on the structure of the virus, which does not occur in nature. We also know they were experimenting with similar viruses, and were cooperating with the U.S. in that research.

So why are bats condemned as the source of the virus? No bats contain this virus. However, a species of bat in China has a virus which is similar to the covid-19 virus – but it is a different species, and is not as similar to covid-19 as humans are to chimpanzees! Virologists who have looked carefully at the virus’ structure don’t believe it is likely that the coronavirus in that bat species could have mutated to covid-19. But unfortunately, bats are unpopular animals, even though there are no good reasons for that to be the case, since they normally do not carry diseases to humans, and are responsible for controlling insects, pollinating flowers, and disseminating seeds from the fruits they eat in order to regenerate tropical forests. The media and some medical scientists have perpetuated this myth, unjustly. And I point out that, although bats are blamed for spreading various deadly viruses, like Mers, H1N1, Sars, Ebola, and more, no one has ever proved that bats in any way were the source of these viruses.

We often think of a virus as an entity that causes diseases, not only in humans but other animals as well. In fact, there are thousands and thousands of viruses out there, most of them benign, and many living in your own body. There are many, many coronaviruses found in many animals. Bats have a lot in their bodies, usually found by identifying the antibodies. This is because bats, being colonial, have a very robust immune system, and rarely are affected by viral diseases, which they resist. Notably it turns out that the number of viruses a group of animals has depends on the number of species in that animal group – so bats, since they are one of the most diverse groups of mammals (over 1400 species), have a lot of viruses.

So, the second question regards protecting bats from catching coronavirus from us. Is it necessary? An international committee of mammal experts has concluded that, even though it is unlikely bats may catch and suffer from and carry covid-19 from us, we cannot at present answer the questions that would allow us to judge one way or the other, due to lack of appropriate research, since indeed this is a new virus. So, in an abundance of caution, they recommend not handling bats, or if one’s ongoing research involves handling bats, the researchers must use all the mitigation techniques we should be using to protect ourselves from each other – masks, gloves, disinfecting everything, washing hands, etc., when handling bats.

Finally, as this edition of Semillas was going to press, a new study from the University of California, Davis, produced interesting, and relevant results. They tested 400 species of animals for susceptibility to Covid-19, including many species of bats (and including the Chinese horseshoe bat with the virus similar to Covid-19). They found that bats are not easily infected with Covid and therefore are not spreading it. Unfortunately, they determined that the animals most susceptible to Covid are higher primates, many of which are endangered species.

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To Sleep… Perhaps to Dream? Updating Hamlet

by Mike West

At every extended crisis I have faced in my life, I have also experienced sleep problems- and those sleep problems have sometimes deepened my crisis. Of course, of course… for sleep plays a large and essential role in all our lives, crisis or no, and sleep can be a delicate undertaking, easily disrupted. Clearly, every day, my body wants some eating, drinking, and sleeping, and can not be denied for long. Eating and drinking I certainly seem to have some control over- sleeping, not so much- but quality in all these is essential to my good health. For sleep, I can try to persuade, encourage, accept or entice sleep- but control is an illusion.

Yet, sleep can control me! If I try to cheat sleep, it becomes more insistent, until I must relinquish my illusion of control, to finally pay off some at least of my sleep debt. And in a more subtle way, sleep can entice me to escape crises… when I feel overwhelmed, when I am at a loss for a solution, when I run out of options, I see a different side of sleep. Not to refresh me, not for pleasant dreams, not really for rest… but as an escape from crisis. Then, my task is not to find sleep, because I am avoiding life, by sleeping it away. My goal becomes to change my life so that sleep is not so seductive and even overwhelming as an escape. Not enough sleep, or too much sleep can each be separate crises, added on to whatever causes them in the first place. But as is often true, I seek the path without unhealthy extremes, the middle path: here, in sleep.

I am filled with contradictions. My mind tells me I am rational, but of course it would, and of course there are times I am ruled by emotion; emotions that I love or hate in my struggle to be rational. I think I control my thinking, but I have a monkey mind that won’t always turn itself down to allow me to sleep. I pride myself on curiosity, yet there are many things I would rather not know, or are not at the right time to explore if I need to fall asleep. Unfortunately I can endlessly consider the future, and relive the past in my mind, even with an imperative need to deal with the present, or not deal with anything at all, and get some darn sleep: a present where just the right amount of sleep is necessary and can be elusive.

In this newsletter about crisis, I hope we can share sleep tips; you can reach me at

Between too much and too little sleep, the more common problem I have is a lack of sleep, either in duration or quality. Among other things that have disturbed my sleep quality is my aging body. I find changes have occurred that I need to adapt to: like more waking in the night time, restlessly at dawn or from a minor disturbance, or to use the bathroom. Naps that were essential at the beginning of life, and a luxury in middle age, have once again become very necessary to me. So, as I age, each day I face more times when I need to fall asleep, overnight or for naps. Nowadays, if I don’t nap, I am worthless.

As a first step in encouraging sleep, I have found “sleep hygiene” can be very helpful, whether at night, or in naps. Common advice can be found in videos (for example youtube: or a Ted Talk: , which notes that insomnia can be entwined with crisis, but can persist AFTER crisis to become its own concern, and that the best sleep “medicine” for chronic insomnia is good choices and habits, not any drug… and more (starting at the 9-minute mark) or on web pages ( for example or or ). I don’t follow all these tips because, for example, I can’t get through the day without naps.

But, with sleep hygiene in place, how do I actually FALL asleep? There are a lot of tips around, many that I have found generally helpful: . One summary that apparently is evidence-based is here: . Some of my favorite techniques to use include exaggeratedly shrugging my shoulders down, and relaxing them in that position; surveying for any tension in my toes, feet, and legs; then fingers, hands, and arms; and most importantly, relaxing the muscles in my face, mouth, and repeatedly around my eyes. The muscles around my eyes seem to easily accumulate tension, so I consciously encourage their relaxation over and over again. Often, I imagine my eyeballs drifting gently into my head as I relax the muscles holding them, at the end of each exhalation.

I also have some techniques that I don’t see mentioned often. I model my mind as having two tracks: we can think of these as the conscious and unconscious, or “fast” and “slow” in the model of Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, (,_Fast_and_Slow) in which an instinctive and emotional mode of thinking happens first; and is followed by its partner thinking, which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. I imagine the logical thinking needs to go to sleep before the emotional can do so. So I try to displace deliberative thoughts, with attention to my senses only, and that with minimal sensory stimulation as well. I believe I need to pay attention to two things to satisfy my mind’s needs, otherwise it will go places that are not conducive to sleep. With two subjects, my mind can alternate between them, on two separate restful tracks, for if I don’t have my mind directed somewhere appropriate when it wants to wander, it will go places that are not restful and my monkey mind will make its appearance.

As already noted, I can inventory my body for muscular tension and release that, and I can pay attention to my other senses, such as hearing where I sometimes provide distractions such as a recording loop of the ocean or rain to disarm possible distractions such as a rooster, dog, or moto. Most productively, I pay attention also to sight, though my eyes are closed and I sometimes wear a sleep mask to minimize distractions.

What do I see when my eyes are closed? Only what my mind can imagine, against black or eigengrau. I seek out and await closed-eye visualizations, hypnagogia, the not-quite photopsia or phosphenes, that arrive in my mind as if from my eyes yet in the absence of outside stimulation. At first, it seems like I see nothing, nothing at all, darkness. But with patience, I begin to see things faintly in this darkness, patterns of subtle grays that I can hardly make out. Yet… then… more. Often a small area of muted color appears, it grows in size and subtly in intensity, and then quickly fades away, then to appear and grow again, a slow heartbeat somewhat on the pace of my breathing, yet separate. Dark blue, yellow, orange, red all can make appearances. Once I begin to see these patterns, I know I am very close to sleep. Usually I can only remember seeing less than six repetitions of these hypnagogia, before I realize I am now waking up, and that I have been unconscious, asleep.

On the other hand, I have also experienced times where my problem is too much sleeping. I have had times when for months I have had to struggle to get out of bed, to go to work, to eat, to take a shower. Sleep seduces me to escape whatever crisis I had better face, or one that my mind deludes me into thinking is a crisis when it is possibly only a molehill made into a mountain. At such times, everything becomes a crisis that I simply can not face, when sleep is so much easier. Weekends become so welcome, not to enjoy the things that bring me pleasure such as a hike exploring nature, or reading, or visits with friends, or a computer project, or a phone call, but because I don’t even have to leave bed- even for work, or a shower.

When sleeping becomes more important than living, it becomes its own crisis, whatever the original crisis that precipitated my maladaptation to escape into sleep. Sadly, there are times I have found my mind has become overwhelmed. There are many pieces of advice in the world to try to jump-start an interest in living over sleeping. Life sometimes includes facing crises, but I find the most important adaptation to this maladaptation of escaping is to reach out to others for perspective and assistance. In my life and in the lives of others I have witnessed, the others that can help have been family, friends, partners, and professionals such as therapists, crisis-line personnel, mental-health professionals, clergy, or community leaders. When I find myself overwhelmed, I call for backup, because I have been temporarily unable to help myself.

Happily, every crisis I have faced has eventually been resolved, given enough action, help, or time, except, of course, whatever is my current crisis, such as covid-19. But I take heart in the knowledge that given thought, determination, resilience, or patience (in some combination), a solution will be found, or the crisis will pass. We will always have crises to deal with, or remember, or prepare for. We also just need time to sleep on it, and time to rouse ourselves.

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By Wendy Rockwell

My proposal is to eliminate taxes on labor and production and replace them with a land value tax.

The pandemic has brought to light several social problems. One of them is the cuarterías, in the city centers, especially San José. The cuarterías are old buildings, which have not received the proper maintenance, nor are they properly suited to function as living quarters. Many families live in these buildings with limited ventilation, sharing bathrooms and kitchens.

The current tax system penalizes work and private investment in infrastructure at the same time that situations such as cuarterías are rewarded with little or no taxes. I want to present an example of another city that implemented a tax system that reduced taxes on investment in infrastructure and at the same time increased the tax rate for land values.

In the city of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, USA, the property tax rate was set at six times the rate on infrastructure. It is important to point out that the city of Harrisburg was number two on the list of the most afflicted cities in the country before implementing the tax change.

The mayor of Harrisburg recommended the land value tax and stated in 2003:

Currently, we have registered an excess of $ 3.1 billion in new investments. The number of registered businesses has increased from 1,908 to more than 5,900. Land values have increased from a value of $212 million to more than $ 1.6 billion. The number of vacant properties has been reduced by more than 76%. Unemployment, which has generally been in the double digits, is half what it was.

All taxes on production increase the cost of living, hitting hardest those who have the least. On the other hand, the land value tax is not produced by the owner of that property. Land value is produced by the community itself. A property increases in value by the presence of the community that requires it to live and the infrastructure that benefits that population.

The real estate tax is actually two taxes. A tax on improvements and another tax on land value. It is a very low tax collected by municipalities, a quarter of one percent. An improvement in the tax structure could take place by eliminating the tax on improvements, and increasing the tax on land values by one percent every year for six years. As the revenue increased from land value other taxes could be eliminated.

The recovery of land value for public uses would eliminate the economic framework that makes it feasible for owners of properties to maintain them as cuarterías. If the land tax rises, it would not be feasible to maintain this unprofitable use. The owner would be motivated to put the land to good use or let someone else do it. Many economic resources are currently parked in these properties, lands of high value but idle or poorly used. They are seen in abundance in our cities. The land value tax is a strong incentive to modify this investment strategy. A land tax would promote a strategy to ensure that investments were profitable, not, as now, idle waiting for future increases in land value.

Land values are not produced by the owner of the land. Land values are an expressión by the community of their demand for that land, because no one can live without access to land, albeit indirectly. The territorial value is therefore called the unearned increase.

The direct tax on unearned increase has been applied in many places on the planet with the same results. Natural resources are put to their best use, economic resources seek their best return, and people have jobs, at higher wages, and the need to resort to taxes that increase the cost of living is reduced.

The current tax regime is responsible for the existence of cuarterías, and also for there being so many people who are forced to live in these conditions.

Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.

Nelson Mandela

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Crisis, Transformation and Hope

by Ellen Cooney

A crisis, by definition, includes the possibility of dire consequences. But at the same time, it can be exactly what we need for transformation, for epiphany. And therein lies the hope.

In a recent article, “We Interrupt This Gloom for … Hope”, author Nicholas Kristof cites examples of how historical crises led to transformative programs in the United States. We can thank the Great Depression, for example, for Social Security, rural electrification and the New Deal programs.

Those of us who lived through the 1960’s in the U.S. saw the turmoil over Viet Nam and the Civil Rights Movement paired with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty. History much further back tells us that there were so many deaths from the Plague in the 1300’s that severe labor shortages followed – leading to a labor movement that resulted in higher wages and the elimination of the serfdom system.

As I walked in the Women’s March in Denver on January 21, 2017 and saw the huge turnout of women, men and children, there and around the world, I felt hope that the turmoil of the election was exactly what was needed to bring progressive causes into action. That march, the Me Too movement, Supreme Court decisions on LGBTQ rights, and the Black Lives Matter movement – amazing progress in just a few years – give credence to such hope, despite many dire developments along the way.

I have found this to be true in my personal life as well. One major epiphany occurred in December 1998, when, nine months into our marriage, my husband developed a popliteal aneurysm behind his knee. The aneurysm cut off the circulation to his lower leg and resulting in a sudden, unanticipated below-the-knee amputation with a succession of crises in his (our, really) 3-week hospitalization that included Christmas. In an OMG moment somewhere along the way, we looked at each other and admitted that this was the sort of thing that could make or break a marriage. Fortunately, it was a positive epiphany, as my husband described in the closing paragraph of an article for Quaker Life:

“I have had an event in my life that has jerked me up straight. In a way, it has been the best Christmas ever; I have learned what love and intimacy can be. I have felt God’s hand in my life, and I’ve been given yet another chance to get it right. Thank you, Lord.”

I am convinced that it was that epiphany that continued to strengthen our marriage 15 years later when, after 2 years of knowing his cancer was metastatic, he needed home-based hospice care for three months before his passing in August 2013. In case his slow death, combining horrendous stress with some of our most loving moments, wasn’t enough to get me to transform, I was diagnosed with my second bout of cancer 24 days after his passing. The bedrocks of my life – my husband, work, and health – all disappeared at once. Then chemo added to the mix, with effects for me that I describe as throwing all emotions into a blender and turning it on high.

How could I not transform? Though for better or worse was the big question.

While the years since then have included some wrong turns, I am convinced that such a horrible year has led to another personal transformation, albeit a more slowly evolving one. I see my move to Monteverde as one of the wonderful results of that transformation.

And so, despite fear of contracting COVID-19 and horror as I watch the U.S. from afar, I hold out hope for both myself and the U.S. – a jaded and honed hope. As Nicholas Kristof quoted Sen. Cory Booker of N. J and then commented:

’Hope right now in America is bloodied and battered, but this is the kind of hope that is successful,’ … ‘It’s hope that has lost its naïveté.’

Sen. Cory Booker of N. J.

“Besieged as we are by plague and crisis, a dollop of this ‘calloused hope,’ as Booker calls it, offers an incentive to persevere. If in the depths of the Great Depression we could claw a path out and forge a better country, ‘calloused hope’ can guide us once more to a better place.”

Nicholas Kristof

You can find “We Interrupt This Gloom for … Hope” at or if you don’t have a subscription, .

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