I am troubled by the pessimism that has permeated much of the discussion about the perfect storm of multiple global crises and consequent impact on our lives and lifestyles. It seems that awake and aware people are divided (albeit simplistically) into two camps: those who are checking the altimeter and announcing the timing and extent of the impending crash, and those who are carefully – or hurriedly – packing their parachutes and teaching others how to sew theirs. Many, perhaps, have one foot in each camp. Some are hoping to bring on Armageddon.
I believe that we are – and must be – about something much broader and deeper than the specific issues and crises of peak oil, resource depletion, population overshoot and climate change. Even the recent Gulf oil disaster must not focus our attention too narrowly, or we risk remaining forever reactive.
Some of you are, no doubt, aware of the various and convergent indigenous prophesies and current signs of Earth Changes – a time of tumultuous and possibly cataclysmic shift in the very balance of life on Earth. We may be facing not only climatic change but climactic changes, including a pole shift, a significant homo sapiens die-off, an evolutionary up-welling of consciousness, and a realignment of the homeostasis of Life. These ancient prophesies, corroborated by traditional elders, are substantiated by many current events including peak oil, climate disruption, and an increase in global tensions and conflict.
There has been discussion about the necessity of acknowledging both the painful reality of the coming changes and the opportunities presented by them – of accepting both the grief and the joy of this time of transition. It has been said that we must face our fears with emotional honesty so that we don’t dwell in the desolation of denial.
There are, however, two levels of emotional response: one is debilitating and restrictive, the other is healing and expansive (but don’t let these two sets of words get in the way of your understanding, since any choice of words carries baggage). Fear, sadness, and anger are the constricting emotions which inhibit and limit our choices and responses. Each causes a tightening of the body, a shortening of breath, and a narrowing of perspective. Terror, Grief, and Rage are much deeper, are not directed at a particular object, produce a release of tension, and broaden our vision. Terror, Grief, and Rage empty the vessel of the soul and make room for openness, hope, and a sense of being fully alive.
Sorrow prepares you for joy.
It violently sweeps everything out of your house,
so that new joy can find space to enter.
It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart,
so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place.
It pulls up the rotten roots,
so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow.
Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart,
far better things will take their place.
Chellis Glendinning, in her ground-breaking 1994 book My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, suggests that “We exist…dislocated from our roots by the psychological, philosophical, and technological constructions of our civilization, and this alienation leads to our suffering.” This “dislocation” has resulted in a society addicted to its own constructs, its myths and its misperceptions, its false promises and vacuous values. And, as a nation of addicts, we are lost in a fog of denial, while those attempting recovery from the addiction are often drowning in a well of despair.
In his powerful and controversial documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore astutely remarks that somewhere between denial and despair we forgot the intermediate step: action to make the world a better place. That action, however, must transcend economics and politics if it is to be authentically transformative. Chellis calls for a return to a nature-based culture, one in which people live “as if [we] were responsible for building the culture that the rocks and trees and birds of this place expected of human beings.” In the words of Aldo Leopold, we must once again learn to “think like a mountain”.
Andrew Weil, speaking at the 1990 International Transpersonal Conference in Eugene, Oregon about our addictive nature, said: “It’s not something to be disowned. You can’t do that, because addiction is part of our core being. It’s part of who we are. Given that, what can we do about addictive behavior? I can think of only two things to do about it. The first is to try to move it, to try and shift it so that the forms of its expression are less harmful rather than more harmful… The biggest mistake we can make is trying to disown it… We also need to celebrate it for what it is. Because it connects us with all other people, it’s a source of great compassion and great empathy. It’s a motivation to work with others to try to halt the kinds of destructive behavior that are happening today. I can think of nothing more important than that.”
But, because these cultural addictions are so deep and unacknowledged, they are very difficult to even recognize let alone transform. Scott Kalechstein, spiritual muse and song channeler, wrote a wonderful song (to the tune of Breaking Up is Hard to Do):
Don’t take my pain away from me.
Don’t leave me here without my misery.
‘Cause if I let go then what would I do.
This waking up is hard to do.
My challenges they make me wiser;
They help me grow just like some fertilizer.
Wish I could grow without doodoo.
This waking up is hard to do.
The most destructive of all human addictions, the one which maintains us in a constant state of denial and enslavement, is the addiction to our limiting emotional responses which are the bars of the cage we construct around our sense of self and our sense of possibility.
As an experiential, nature-based educator and group leader, my job was to encourage people to “push the envelope” and expand into a perceptual territory outside of the habitual sense of limitation that both our culture and our very nature prescribe. As a rite-of-passage facilitator, I’ve assisted people, both young and old, to step beyond the threshold of ordinary reality into a numinous realm in which dwells both demons and allies – each waiting to guide us back to ourselves and our purpose in this life.
In truth, the demons that each of us carry on our shoulders like mascots, are holy beings asking to be recognized. Once recognized for who they are, they become allies and their power becomes available to us rather than conflicting with our imagined desires. To make this transition, requires a Hero’s Journey into unknown territory – involving a departure from the known world, battles with our inner demons (in which they are not slain but transformed), assistance from allies (who may have been our demons), discovery of hidden treasure (self-understanding), and a return to share our treasure with the world we left behind (now altered by our expanded vision). This is also the roadmap of the Vision Quest and of all rites of passage.
We are in the midst of a Great Awakening, a collective Rite-Of-Passage from the Age of Fear and Separation to the Age of Compassion and Re-Union. We must acknowledge but not cling to our fears as we reach for hope. And then we must realize that hope alone is insufficient. Hope is a holy longing which stirs the soul, but unless we reach out and grasp the prize it remains forever distant. Hope is of a better future, but the gift of the Universe is the eternal present (why do you think we call it the “present”?) which need only be comprehended (grasped in its entirety) in order to make it ours. What we seek is not “out there”, but around us and within us.
If we are primarily or exclusively focused on the impending crises, then we are merely weathermen shouting into the wind (Chicken Littles) and difficult to hear. We need to become Big Chickens and learn to cross the road. Not just to get to the other side and not simply to rebuild the levees washed away by the recurrent storms, but to build an ark. Then, when people stop in curiosity and ask why, we can simply point to the sky and say: “Don’t you see those storm clouds coming. And look how lovely this Ark is. It contains everything I truly need, and in it I am secure and content. Wouldn’t you like to join me?”
Fear and cynicism are what is keeping us blind and enslaved. More fear will not move us out of our cages. Humor, hope & vision will. These are the weapons of mass deconstruction. What we will then need are tools of mass reconstruction, tools of conviviality: our famous American inventiveness, determination, and openness to possibility. We Americans are destined to manifest love in material form (Spiritual Politics, McLaughlin & Davidson). Work is love made visible (Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet).
In the inspiring movie, Field of Dreams, the tag line was “build it and they will come.” The field we need to build now is not another playing field, but rather a field of consciousness which will, when it becomes strong enough, manifest its own form and function.
Every breakthrough requires a breakdown. Every awful truth contains an awesome opportunity. Light and darkness are not opposites. Darkness is merely the absence of light. Shine a light on a shadow and the shadow’s power diminishes. We are living in a time of very deep and lengthening shadows, and our job must be to cast an equally powerful light, first on our own shadows and then on our collective shadows. That light will then illuminate a new direction, a more inviting path that wasn’t widely perceived or recognized.
The old order is winding down, as entropy demands. This spinning, dizzying top will soon begin to wobble and then to tumble. Life is the only anti-entropic force in the universe. Let’s be pro-life. Let us together build a new world order based upon a deeper and richer balance, one that was inscribed in our DNA from millennia of being at-one with nature and informed by a broader vision of what is possible. We are an expression of the Universe in search of itself. Let us celebrate this new opportunity for self-discovery and self-realization. It’s surely going to be an exhilarating time!