Commonweal: 25 Years of Healing

Commonweal, a jewel in the Point Reyes National Seashore, is an example of collective genius creating an innovative nonprofit.

Years ago, Marconi Wireless sent radio transmissions across the ocean from this wind-swept ocean bluff located near Bolinas, California. Today, its historic buildings house a unique health and environmental research institute that justly deserves its international reputation.

Commonweal began 25 years ago, when Michael Lerner, a Harvard- and Yale-trained political scientist, left a promising academic career to found an institute that would serve at-risk children, help adults with environmentally related health problems and promote public education about environmental health.

Today, Commonweal is perhaps best known for its Cancer Help Program, which Lerner began when his father, Max Lerner, a distinguished political philosopher, was diagnosed with cancer. With intellectual brilliance and spiritual sensitivity, Michael Lerner has helped thousands of people, in small groups of 10 participants, explore how to live with a life-threatening illness.

Yoga begins and ends the day. Gentle walks along the bluff, the cool ocean breeze, group discussions and a variety of approaches to healing offer patients a welcome respite from the often harsh medical treatments they have endured. Lerner offers no false notions or potions. But he does stress the difference between being cured and the individual journey required for a life worth living.

Gradually, participants grasp that a life-threatening illness is simply the human condition writ large: We will all die. It is how we live that matters.

In 1993, millions of Americans discovered this remarkable program when they watched Bill Moyers' documentary, "Wounded Healers," the fifth part of his award-winning PBS series,"Healing and the Mind."

The real greatness of Commonweal, of course, is not limited to one extraordinary individual. It resides in the remarkable collection of people who have devoted their energy and expertise to its many projects.

Medical Director Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of the best-seller "Kitchen Table Wisdom," has pioneered a national initiative to help health professionals reclaim the heart of medicine.

Sharyle Patton has led the successful fight for the first global treaty to ban or phase out 12 of the most toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPS) on earth.

Burr Heneman is the architect of the most sweeping reform of California ocean policies in 50 years.

Steve Lerner has published the influential "Ecopioneers: Practical Visionaries Solving Today's Environmental Problems."

Carolyn Brown, David Steinhart and David Arredondo, M.D., direct Commonweal's three pioneering programs for at-risk children and youth.

These are but a few of the amazing individuals who have turned Commonweal into a major catalyst for a healthier and more just society.

A quiet hub of creative thinking, Commonweal's newest initiative is to support the emerging environmental health movement, especially those communities whose health have been threatened by toxic chemicals and pollutants. (See Michael Lerner's "The Age of Extinctions and the Emerging Environmental Health Movement" at www.commonweal.org).

Imagine a world in which we are no longer assaulted by such toxic chemicals and pollutants. This is the dream for which Lerner and his colleagues have worked for 25 years. Happy Anniversary, Commonweal. We salute your vision and accomplishments.

Ruth Rosen is a editorial writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, where a version of this article first appeared.

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