Sedona, Arizona
October 21, 2007






What do these two share in common anyway

                                                            — and why should we care?


Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money.       -- Chief Seattle, Dwamish Native American


What’s the underlying issue behind uprooted lives and trees? There’s far more common ground here than meets the eye.

The local SiCKO stories, like the film itself, point to a system gone haywire due to corporate and political blinders of greed, with an administration and medical industry turning a deaf ear to its ailing and bankrupt citizens.

The sycamore scenario – in which public outcry arose in Sedona as reports spread that a much larger number of heritage trees were slated to make way for road expansion than originally thought – also smacks of blindness and deafness.

The health-care crisis and the sycamore conundrum – have much to teach us about our values in a spiritually bankrupt culture where economic priorities reign over human and planetary well-being. Both issues are byproducts of runaway power, mixed-up priorities, misplaced trust and decisions based on material currency rather than the currency of the heart.

It’s about our lack of balance. Ultimately, it is about separation.

Claim denied!

SiCKO highlights the denial of medical claims by the health insurance industry. In the sycamore debate, denial prevailed at every twist and turn – denial of the allegations of the Save Sedona Trees group; denial of those who were fearful that they may have overlooked something in the initial road planning process; denial by the city since it was a state matter; denial by those who had failed to participate in the original public process; and denial by others that the trees were even an issue to be concerned about.

Like health care, did economic interests override well-being with the sycamores? Most likely we can blame the mere lack of general environmental awareness despite the growing implications of climatic imbalance and the role that trees play in it and our health – and despite the plethora of ominous reports of global warming staring us right in the face.

A similar attitude prevails in the health industry where, despite the solid evidence pointing to the harmful effects of certain drugs and medical procedures, those to whom we entrust our care continue to tear down our well-being, much like the trees.


Many questions, few answers

In both SiCKO the sycamores, similar questions arise:

Where are our leaders in the face of public outcry? Why does it take so long for official response? What happened to common sense during the early planning stages, whether it was 1971 for health care or 2001 for the trees? Why does it seem so many dismiss basic human needs and vital environmental concerns?

In the case of the sycamores, some Sedona residents have asked: How can this have happened in a highway reconstruction plan that was approved by a committee of local citizens during the planning process - citizens who were concerned about the environment? What went wrong?

Likewise in SiCKO, Americans are asking: How can this health-care nightmare have happened in a democracy?  What went wrong?

As we look at these questions, we see the line separating trees and health care quickly evaporates as both issues merge into one.


Blind trust and constant fear

The trees and health-care, like most problems in America, provide a painful reminder about how we place our blind trust in and give our power away to – government agencies, insurance companies, medical bureaucracies, credit bureaus, collection agencies, corporate media, economic business interests, pharmaceutical empires and political leaders and even our fellow citizens – none of whom necessarily have the public’s best interest in mind.

In both the sycamore and SiCKO situations, people trusted their government agencies, providers and fellow citizens to do the right thing. Yet in both cases, these systems failed us somehow, leaving us wondering who managed to drop the ball and why.

Taught from the cradle to obey authority, we subsequently place our well-being in these systems and dutifully pay our premiums, feeding the pipeline of greed-based systems that rob us of our hard-earned life savings, our health, our trees and even our freedom of speech – leaving us bankrupt on every level.

SiCKO and the sycamores show us how fear dominates our decisions and leads to poor choices. We stumble through life playing by the rules without question, worrying about our credit scores and job benefits, and then wonder why we’re left holding an empty bag when we’re denied coverage or losing our homes. We need to widen a road due to fear - fear of not being able to travel as fast or safely as we think we should.

Misplaced values

The sycamore situation hints at blindness to the environment and the value of trees to the planet and human life. It points to the ongoing separation from the Earth by a town on the brink of overdevelopment and losing many of the last sacred vestiges of its few remaining landmarks – ones that aren’t manmade or crafted of the hypnotic red rocks.

When it comes to SiCKO and the sycamores, those with money and power really don’t seem to care about what truly matters in the end other than uprooting life for the sake of economic conveyor belts to the right coffers.

Perhaps the tree debacle can learn a lesson from the health-care crisis: We can’t wait until we get sick to fix the inherent problem or until it becomes a catastrophe. Didn’t Hurricane Katrina teach us that?

Trees and health

Just one sycamore alone processes the pollution of 26 cars speeding along the nearby highway. Just one mighty sycamore is a former nut that simply held its ground. In that, it has much to teach us if we would only pause long enough to sit under one and listen to its whispering wisdom.

Trees nurture us, protect us, shelter us, feed us, support countless unknown ecosystems and show us beauty. And like everything else, they too have a voice. William Shakespeare knew this when he wrote: And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything. 

Both SiCKO and the sycamores tell us we cannot allow the lack of individual responsibility to excuse us from becoming involved in the vital issues, locally as well as nationally. No matter how busy we are juggling multiple jobs or responsibilities, we can no longer trust other agents to make the right decisions for us or look out for the common good. We must all make a contribution or live with the consequences, without complaining or asking “How did this happen?”

So the tree fiasco in Sedona boils down to the same one in health care: Where do we put our trust as a community and as Americans? Are we sleepwalking in blind faith, trusting that others will take the proper responsibility to make the right decisions for us as a community and as a nation?

Becoming more aware

SiCKO and the sycamores suggest that while our leaders and systems may be detached, milking or bulldozing Americans, the bottom line is that we, as individuals, have become too complacent and self-absorbed. We can no longer allow this to continue.

They also show us how our priorities as a society need to be re-examined. They point to contradiction and hypocrisy but most of all to the need for healing – the sick, the environment and our diseased paradigms that have clearly held their breaths way too long.

Just as Michael Moore has opened up the dialogue about health care, so too Jim Law took the lead to start asking questions. And both have led the way toward resolution while demonstrating where are systems need mending.

Our system is broken, but somehow we must not let it break our spirit. So what’s the first step in healing that?

Interconnectedness. Conversation, pure and simple. Less TV and more interpersonal exchange. Sedona needs more public forums and community activities. How about planning a town square (with trees!) to restore a sense of community and give folks a place to congregate? We must find a way as a community to become more engaged.


Becoming a sustainable society and community

The challenges of modern society with its pace of everyone operating on maximum overdrive leaves most folks too spent to engage in constructive dialogue. And those who are employed know too well that Americans are working more hours than ever before.

Instead of technology benefiting our lives, it has diminished our leisure time by burdening us with gadgetry (even electric toothbrushes and slow cookers now come with digital screens and confusing manuals), Spam, identity theft, invasion of privacy, bringing work home and checking multiple e-mail boxes. We can't keep up.

And then there’s “Monday Night Football” and “Desperate Housewives.” While people need sports and entertainment, how do we compete with that obsession to bring people together in dialogue at the same time?

Perhaps Sedona’s greatest challenge lies in the fact that so many of its residents live there only part of the year as affluent second homeowners and understandably want to kick back and enjoy life. Where does that leave the need to build a sense of community with full resident participation in the issues of concern?

The answer is that Sedona must nurture a more diverse community with a cross-section of wallets to become fully sustainable.


The root of the problem

The problem isn’t the medical and pharmaceutical industries, or health insurance companies and hospitals. Nor is it ADOT, the city of Sedona or even the road expansion itself. The problem is us.

We're too busy, so we trusted all of these to take care of our best interests. We believed that they stood to represent our well-being. And, somehow, in the process of excessive consumerism and technology overload, we lost our spiritual essence, awareness and connection with the Earth. We have allowed ourselves to become separated – from nature, from our intuition and common sense, as well as from each other.

During the height of the sycamore protests, Law spoke about the consciousness of trees. He described how a Native American elder had explained that “they have angels that live near them, and that sages on the planet prefer to sit or stand under them since they are a sacred connection to the Source.” Yet our modern society mocks such awareness that even advanced ancient cultures embraced.

"As above....so it is below," he said. “Whatever you see over your head in the way of tree branches, there is equal to that below you. If any roots are damaged, cut or destroyed in any way, the tree will become a hat rack over time.”

According to Sedona resident Heather Clewitt-Jachowski, a shamanic healer trained in the Inka method, the tree issue is subtly interwoven with the health-care crisis. While the latter situation reflects “a matrix of grief, loss, hatred, poverty and despair,” the trees present another wound of humanity, she said. And both desperately need healing.

“It’s us we’re cutting down, because the sycamores represent our collective consciousness,” she said. “The trees are saying to us: We have survived for hundreds of years and we will survive. Will you?”


The awakening

We have been sleepwalking far too long – as a nation and as a society. We only wake up when the bulldozer or hospital bill shows up and it’s too late.


SiCKO and the sycamores remind us that our socioeconomic and political structures are wrought with holes and sinking. And life preservers can’t be created from old modes of thinking. To solve our problems, we must step out of our former modes to invent new ways of being, doing and having.

Clewett-Jachowski sums it up this way: “We can’t separate ourselves from the systems around us; to do so creates polarity thinking. We must be conscious about the kind of world we’re creating – inwardly and outwardly,” she advises. “We are not separate from each other – or the sycamores. When we start to realize that, change will begin to happen.”

Where do we begin? With conversation, compassion and calmness. By listening gently to each other even though we disagree. By sitting under a tree and listening to its voice, or listening to the voices of those struggling under a burdened medical system. By creating a spirit of community and oneness – as Sedonans and as Americans.


Making the shift

Both the health care and tree debates teach us that we can't hold our breaths waiting for change to happen; we have to make it happen – individually and collectively. We must take action, whether it involves a meeting of the minds, a public protest, a call to the Capitol, a community forum, a letter to the editor, a march on Washington or even civil disobedience if it is in alignment with our truth.

Sedonans set a wonderful example by gathering as a community to take action on behalf of the trees. In doing so, many individuals succeeded in working together with the state transportation department and city representatives to salvage a good number of these Sedona “crown jewels.” In the end, the situation brought out the very best in people on both sides of the debate to create a mutually agreeable resolution.

The same process needs to happen in health-care reform. We must take a stand on behalf of our fellow Americans and refuse to let our bankrupt neighbors go under. As Moore says, “We are all in the same boat. Together we will sink or swim.”

Good things happen when people come together in action-oriented dialogue, not when we just whine and moan about how bad things are. Together, we can ensure that our ailing friends get the help they need and that something like this never happens to good people – or good trees – ever again.