Excitement, pride and tender reunion characterized the collaboration of three Pacifica Alumni at the Seizing an Alternative Toward an Ecological Civilization held June 4 – 7 at Pomona College in Claremont, California. The conference was inspired by the thoughts and work of American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist John Cobb, Jr. He is regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy and process theology. Cobb has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends, an idea which his primary influence—philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead –described as “world loyalty”
In the Higher Education-Compassion Track of the conference Betsy Perluss (Depth Psychology Ph.D.), Patricia Taylor (Depth Psychology, Ph.D.) and Paul Nelson (Mythological Studies, Ph.D.) shared passions, ideas and expertise with six other speakers: Carolyn Brown from the Fetzer Institute, Frank Rogers, the Muriel Bernice Roberts Professor of Spiritual Formation and Narrative Pedagogy and the co-director of the Center for Engaged Compassion at the Claremont School of Theology, Laurie Schroeder, the Department Chair of Advanced Studies in Ed. & Human Development at the University of LaVerne, two graduates of Patricia Taylor’s special education program, Susan Snyder and Molly Cox-Esquibel and Amy Demyan, Associate Professor of Psychology and Program Chair of the MFT Program at the University of LaVerne.
The theme of the seven presentations was Compassion in Higher Education. The focus was on how supporting and teaching compassion influences connections with the natural world and its ecology. Whether researching self-compassion (Demyan), creating university experiences of compassionate and mindfulness practices (Schroeder) or teaching themes of compassion in special education settings (Snyder/Cox) the themes presented wove a pattern of connectedness to nature’s survival.
Brown shared the ways in which the Fetzer Institute is honoring and supporting projects that explore compassion and its harmonies with all of life and Rogers lead a discussion of his book, Compassionate Practices. Rogers write that he hopes, through this book, he can offer a way to restore us to our compassionate essence and nurture authentic relational connection. In essence, he hopes it teaches us how to be genuinely compassionate.
The Pacifica avocation of anima mundi held the intentions of the conference by leading discussions on the Four Shields connection to compassion (Perluss), storytelling in Business courses using Joseph Campbell’s, Heroes Journey as an experience in compassionate listening (Nelson) and the exploration of Word Stories (Taylor). Taylor spoke of getting to the roots of compassion by using Michael Meade’s idea that words are really “condensed stories”.
Taylor stated, “The idea that we were invited to share our work in the world of Whiteheadian scholars and practioners was both an honor and an affirmation of the Pacifica VAS that held us as we learned together and that is still ever present as we move through the world.