"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

Mourning Our Planet: Climate Scientists Share Their Grieving Process

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Scientists write their feelings about climate change

Oldspeak: “I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150 to 200 species we are already driving extinct daily….Can you relate to this grieving process?  If so, you might find solace in the fact that you are not alone: Climate science researchers, scientists, journalists and activists have all been struggling with grief around what we are witnessingWe don’t know how long we have left on earth. Five years? 15 years? 30? Beyond the year 2100? But when we allow our hearts to be shattered – broken completely open – by these stark, cold realities, we allow our perspectives to be opened up to vistas we’ve never known. When we allow ourselves to fully experience the crisis in this way, we are then able to truly see it through new eyes.”

-Dahr Jamail

“YESSSSSSS….. This resonates sooo strongly with me right now. I intimately relate to this grieving process. I know intellectually that there are people out there who relate to it as well. However, in my day to day life it’s tough. It’s tough to act like everyone else and pretend what’s happening isn’t happening. I don’t know anyone personally who I can share my grief with, without hopium being shoved in my face in the form of denial of the present moment or certainty “we can fix this.”  I find difficulty expressing my lamentations and really being with them, in a meaningful and fully experienced way with others, without being dismissed as a “downer”, “cynic”, or “super-leftie”. I’m just tired of acting like everything will work out OK and that we’re making progress in the “fight” and that justice and life will win out in the end. I’m past optimism in the face of mass extinction. I’m feeling profound grief, sadness, gratitude, wonder, love and acceptance. There’s nothing left to be done, our doing has brought us to this point.  I don’t feel good about participating in a system of being that is killing me and all life on earth. Our incessant and ever increasing doing has rendered half the biodiversity on earth extinct in the past 40 years.  I don’t want do anything anymore. Nearly everything we’ve done the past 500 years and counted as “industrial civilization” & “human progress”  has in fact been industrial destruction of the ecology and human regress, to astronomical levels of illness (mental and physical), violence, amorality and depravity and brought us and most other life on earth to the brink of likely near term extinction.  I’m accepting that. I just everyone else would. I want to be allowed to feel bad about what is happening and have other people genuinely empathize. But alas I don’t see that being so anytime soon, so I’ll continue to let this blog by my extinction grief counselor. I’m goin to have a drink and maybe forget for a spell. CHEERS!” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

I have been researching and writing about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) for Truthout for the past year, because I have long been deeply troubled by how fast the planet has been emitting its obvious distress signals.

On a nearly daily basis, I’ve sought out the most recent scientific studies, interviewed the top researchers and scientists penning those studies, and connected the dots to give readers as clear a picture as possible about the magnitude of the emergency we are in.

This work has emotional consequences: I’ve struggled with depression, anger and fear. I’ve watched myself shift through some of the five stages of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I’ve grieved for the planet and all the species who live here, and continue to do so as I work today.

I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150 to 200 species we are already driving extinct daily.

Can you relate to this grieving process?

If so, you might find solace in the fact that you are not alone: Climate science researchers, scientists, journalists and activists have all been struggling with grief around what we are witnessing.

Take Professor Camille Parmesan, a climate researcher who says that ACD is the driving cause of her depression.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report. “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of the coral dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Last year I wrote about the work of Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, eco-philosophy, general systems theory and deep ecology, and author of more than a dozen books. Her initiative, The Work That Reconnects, helps people essentially do nothing more mysterious than telling the truth about what we see, know and feel is happening to our world.

In order to remain able to continue in our work, we first must feel the full pain of what is being done to the world, according to Macy.” Refusing to feel pain, and becoming incapable of feeling the pain, which is actually the root meaning of apathy, refusal to suffer – that makes us stupid, and half alive,” she told me. “It causes us to become blind to see what is really out there.”

I recently came across a blog titled, Is This How You Feel? It is an extraordinary compilation of handwritten letters from highly credentialed climate scientists and researchers sharing their myriad feelings about what they are seeing.

The blog is run and operated by Joe Duggan, a science communicator, who described his project like this: “All the scientists that have penned letters for this site have a sound understanding of climate change. Some have spent years designing models to predict changing climate, others, years investigating the implications for animal life. More still have been exploring a range of other topics concerning the causes and implications of a changing climate. As a minimum, they’ve all achieved a PhD in their area of expertise.”

With Joe’s permission, I am happy to share the passages below. In the spirit of opening the door to a continuing dialog among readers about our collective situation, what follows are the – often very personal – thoughts and feelings of several leading climate scientists.

Frustration

“Like many others I feel frustrated with the current state of public discourse and I’m dismayed by those who, seemingly motivated by their own short-term self interest, have chosen to hijack that discussion,” wrote Dr. John Fasullo, a project scientist in the climate analysis section of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, on the Is This How You Feel? blog. “The climate is changing and WE are the primary cause.”

Professor Peter B. deMenocal with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory shared an analogy to the climate scientist’s predicament, comparing it to how a medical doctor would feel while having to inform their patient, who is an old, lifelong friend, of a dire but treatable diagnosis. The friend goes on to angrily disregard what you have to say, for a variety of very human reasons, as you watch helplessly as their pain and illness unfold over the rest of their now-shortened life. “Returning to our patient, I feel frustrated that my friend won’t listen,” he concluded.

Dr. Helen McGregor, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, shared a very emotionally honest letter about her experience as a climate scientist. Here is what she wrote in full:

I feel like nobody’s listening. Ok Sure, some people are listening but not enough of our leaders are listening – those that make decisions that influence all our lives. And climate change is affecting and will continue to affect all our lives.

I feel perplexed at why many of our politicians, business leaders, and members of the public don’t get that increased CO2 in the Earths atmosphere is a problem. The very premise that CO2 traps heat is based on fundamental physics – the very same physics that underpins so much of modern society. The very same physics that has seen higher C02 linked with warmer periods in the geological past. And sure, there have been warm periods in the past and the Earth weathered the storm (excuse the pun) but back then there weren’t millions of people, immovable infrastructure, or entire communities in harms way.

I feel astonished that some would accuse me of being part of some global conspiracy to get more money – if I was in it for the money I would have stayed working as a geologist in the mining industry. No, I do climate research because I find climate so very interesting, global warming or not.

I feel both exasperation and despair in equal measure, that perhaps there really is nothing I can do. I feel vulnerable, that perhaps by writing this letter I expose myself to trolling and vitriol – perhaps I’m better off just keeping quiet.

Hope

Dr. Jennie Mallela with the Research Schools of Biology and Earth Sciences at the Australian National University shared a range of emotions, including optimism.

“I believe people are capable of amazing things and I do believe that climate change can be halted and even reversed,” she wrote. “I just hope it happens in my lifetime. I don’t want to become the generation that future children talk of as having destroyed the planet. I’d like to be the generation that fought back (and won) against human induced climate change. The generation that worked out how to live in harmony with the planet – that generation!”

She wasn’t alone.

“So whilst there is enough good and committed people we can change our path of warming,” wrote Dr. Jim Salinger, an honorary research associate in climate science with the University of Auckland’s School of Environment. However, he went on to add, “I am always hopeful – but 4 to 5 degrees Celsius of change will be a challenge to survive.”

I asked Dr. Ira Lefier, an Atmospheric/Oceanic Scientist whose research has focused on methane how he felt about our current situation. He expressed his concerns and frustration, but also optimism.

“I find the current situation is highly distressing, in that the facts regarding global warming have been known for many decades, because like an aircraft carrier avoiding a collision, course changes can easily be managed well in advance, but become impossible at the last minute – inertia seals the future destiny,” he said. “And I ask myself, what did we (scientists and activists and concerned citizens of the planet), how did we get here, so close to the midnight? And I think that there was a tragic underestimate based on the successful campaign to save the Ozone Layer through the fight against CFCs – a gas with almost no political lobby, that the global society could easily accept the widespread changes needed to address global climate change through reducing CO2 emissions – which affects almost everyone on the planet. And that political change could be engendered simply by scientists presenting their facts and observations.

“So yes, I find it highly distressing that we are having a societal discussion on whether to take climate change seriously, half a century late. Still, I refuse not to be an optimist, – it is not yet too late. I continue to do whatever I can both scientifically and by communicating with the public, firstly, because it is the right thing to do, and secondly, in the hope and belief that even now, positive action will reduce the damage from ma warming climate to the ecosystem. I refuse to accept ‘apres moi le deluge’ [after me comes the flood].”

Concern

“As a human-being, and especially as a parent, I feel concerned that we are doing damage to the planet,” wrote Professor Peter Cox, of the University of Exeter, on the blog. “I don’t want to leave a mess for my children, or anyone else’s children, to clear-up. We are currently creating a problem for them at an alarming rate – that is worrying.”

Professor Gabi Hegerl, a professor of climate system science with the University of Edinburgh, wrote, “I look at my children and think about what I know is coming their way and I worry how it will affect them.”

Dr. Sarah Perkins, a climate scientist and extreme events specialist with the University of New South Wales, shared both her concern and hope about our Earth.

For sometime now I’ve been terribly worried. I wish I didn’t have to acknowledge it, but everything I have feared is happening. I used to think I was paranoid, but it’s true. She’s slipping away from us. She’s been showing signs of acute illness for quite a while, but no one has really done anything. Her increased erratic behavior is something I’ve especially noticed. Certain behaviors that were only rare occurrences are starting to occur more often, and with heightened anger. I’ve tried to highlight these changes time and time again, as well as their speed of increase, but no one has paid attention.

It almost seems everyone has been ignoring me completely, and I’m not sure why. Is it easier to pretend there’s no illness, hoping it will go away? Or because they’ve never had to live without her, so the thought of death is impossible? Perhaps they cannot see they’ve done this to her. We all have.

To me this is all false logic. How can you ignore the severe sickness of someone you are so intricately connected to and dependent upon. How can you let your selfishness and greed take control, and not protect and nurture those who need it most? How can anyone not feel an overwhelming sense of care and responsibility when those so dear to us are so desperately ill? How can you push all this to the back of your mind? This is something I will never understand. Perhaps I’m the odd one out, the anomaly of the human race. The one who cares enough, who has the compassion, to want to help make her better.

The thing is we can make her better!! If we work together, we can cure this terrible illness and restore her to her old self before we exploited her. But we must act quickly, we must act together. Time is ticking, and we need to act now.

Sharing both his frustration and concern, Dr. Alex Sen Gupta with the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales wrote:

I feel frustrated. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. We know what’s going on, we know why it’s happening, we know how serious things are going to get and still after so many years, we are still doing practically nothing to stop it. I feel concerned that unmitigated our inaction will cause terrible suffering to those least able to cope with change and that within my lifetime many of the places that make this planet so special – the snows on Kilimanjaro, the Great Barrier Reef, even the ice covered Arctic will be degraded beyond recognition – our legacy to the next generation.

Anger

“My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations,” wrote Professor Corety Bradshaw, the director of ecological modeling at the University of Adelaide. “I am not referring to some vague, existential bonding to the future human race; rather, I am speaking as a father of a seven year-old girl who loves animals and nature in general. As a biologist, I see irrefutable evidence every day that human-driven climate disruption will turn out to be one of the main drivers of the Anthropocene mass extinction event now well under way.”

The rest of his letter is worth reading in full:

Public indifference and individual short-sightedness aside, I am furious that politicians like Abbott and his anti-environment henchman are stealing the future from my daughter, and laughing about it while they line their pockets with the figurative gold proffered by the fossil-fuel industry. Whether it is sheer stupidity, greed, deliberate dishonesty or all three, the outcome is the same – destruction of the environmental life-support system that keeps us all alive and prosperous. Climates change, but the rapidity with which we are disrupting the current climate on top of the already heavily compromised environmental health of the planet makes the situation dire.

My frustration with these greedy, lying bastards is personal. Human-caused climate disruption is not a belief – it is one of the best-studied phenomena on Earth. Even a half-wit can understand this. As any father would, anyone threatening my family will by on the receiving end of my ire and vengeance. This anger is the manifestation of my deep love for my daughter, and the sadness I feel in my core about how others are treating her future.

Mark my words, you plutocrats, denialists, fossil-fuel hacks and science charlatans – your time will come when you will be backed against the wall by the full wrath of billions who have suffered from your greed and stupidity, and I’ll be first in line to put you there.

“The Pivotal Psychological Reality of Our Time”

Joe told me the response to his project has been, in general, positive.

“I have received emails from all over the world from people of all walks of life thanking me for establishing the website – from retired grandmothers through to undergraduate university students,” he said. “The letters have been picked up by various social media sites like Science Alert…and have subsequently reached massive audiences.”

He was happy to add that the responses from scientists have been positive, and said his question of “How does climate change make you feel?” is “something they have not been asked before.”

“Of course there have been some very vocal opponents to my work,” Joe added. “This is to be expected. As I have said in the past, there is a small but very vocal group of people out there whose sole goal is to misinform and mislead the general public about climate change. These people don’t have to use the facts, they don’t have to even use the real data. They can cherry-pick from graphs, or even tell flat-out lies in an attempt to mislead the greater public. To what end, who knows? ITHYF [Is This How You Feel] does not exist to change the minds of deniers. It exists to provide an avenue through which every day people can relate to climate change.”

The term “climate change deniers,” then, has an entirely new – and ever more relevant – meaning when viewed through the lenses of the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, given that “denial” is literally one of the five stages.

Joe is now asking laypeople to send in their letters about how they feel, and plans to publish those as well.

“This approach is not the only way to communicate on climate change, but it is one way, and I certainly feel that it is effective,” he concluded.

The practice of scientists sharing their feelings runs contrary to the dominant consumer capitalist culture of the West, which guards against – and attempts to divert attention from – the prospect of people getting in touch with feelings provoked by witnessing the wholesale destruction of the planet.

In fact, Joanna Macy believes it is not in the self-perceived interest of multinational corporations, or the government and the media that serve them “for us to stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.”

Nevertheless, these disturbing trends of widespread denial, disinformation by the corporate media, and the worsening impacts of runaway ACD, which are all increasing, are something she is very mindful of. As she wrote in World as Lover, World as Self, “The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time.”

We don’t know how long we have left on earth. Five years? 15 years? 30? Beyond the year 2100? But when we allow our hearts to be shattered – broken completely open – by these stark, cold realities, we allow our perspectives to be opened up to vistas we’ve never known. When we allow ourselves to fully experience the crisis in this way, we are then able to truly see it through new eyes.

Like reaching new heights on a mountain, we can see things we’ve never seen before. Our thinking, attitudes, and outlook on life changes dramatically. It is a new consciousness, one in which we realize the pivotal stage in history we find ourselves in.

Perhaps, within this new consciousness, we can live in this time with grace, dignity, and caring. Perhaps, here, we can find ways to save habitat for a few more species, while we share our precious lives and this precious time with loved ones, in the wild places we love so much, on this rare and precious world.

Struggling To Be “Fully Alive”: Reports On Coping With Anguish For A World In Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Oldspeak: “We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion…This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics. ” -Robert Jensen

“The message i take away from this post is simply this: we are never alone. When we feel like we’re the crazy ones for feeling profound and deep grief, sadness, anger, frustration, that no one else seems to be experiencing, it’s not true. There are others bearing witness, struggling with their anguish.  To be as Joanna Macy says “fully present to what is happening in the world“. Be mindful, be vigilant in your practice of radical acceptance. Recognize that “All differences in this world are of a degree not a kind, because Oneness is the secret of everything.” Being in the present moment is all we can do. Professor Jensen’s original essay is definitely worth a read. “ -OSJ

By Robert Jensen @ Common Dreams:

“I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said many times over the centuries.”

That may have been the most insightful response to my essay asking people to report on how they cope with the anguish of living in a world in collapse.

That simple statement is a reminder that (1) the social and ecological crises we face have been building for a long time and (2) the best of our traditions have, for a long time, offered wisdom useful in facing those crises. The unjust social systems and unsustainable ecological practices of contemporary society started with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, when humans began dominating each other and the planet in evermore destructive fashion, and intensified dramatically over the 250 years of the industrial revolution. (For a historical perspective, see “The delusional revolution”.)

And for nearly that long, some people have resisted the power of elites and tried to protect the land. (For a contemporary example, see “Where agriculture meets empire.”)

So, we struggle in the moment with complex problems that defy simple solutions — problems that may be beyond our capacity to solve in any meaningful way. But describing the basics needed for a better world is not difficult if we draw on that wisdom. Here’s my condensed version:

We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion.

This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics, and it was at the heart of nearly all the 300 responses to my essay. This notion of respect wasn’t defined as “being nice” or “not being judgmental.” Respect takes work — to understand the other, make judgments, and engage constructively when there are disagreements or conflicting needs.

Along with those calls for love, there was a lot of anger in the responses, much of it directed at elites — the politicians, business executives, and media propagandists who so often not only promote arrogant and greedy behavior over humility and solidarity, but also rationalize and prop up the political/economic/social systems in which the destructive behavior is fostered.

And many wrote that the while the anger we may feel toward elites is justified, we have to start with self-critique and examine our own place in these systems. For example, the anger toward BP officials over the “hole in the world” at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico co-exists with the recognition that we all live somewhere in the system that demands that oil:

“I speak of the oil spill going on and I acknowledge how implicated I am in it. My lifestyle — despite efforts to eat wild foods, look at waste streams as resources, and live frugally — depends heavily on oil. It’s like there are these [oil] stains on my hands, all over my hands, my body and the ground around me.”

In such a world, it is easy for those of us who live in affluent societies to be drained by an awareness of all this:

“My personal ambition seems to decrease in proportion to the increase in world suffering. I think that’s part of my emotional reaction to crisis. I don’t think I am fully alive. I’m not depressed, just weirdly diminished.”

Why would someone feel diminished today? For almost all of the people who responded, the heart of their struggle was in the realization that the human species, locked into industrial societies dependent on high-energy/high-technology systems to produce food and fuel, is on a path leading to the edge of a cliff. No one offered predictions for an end time, but:

“[W]hat I see as the reality of our situation — ecologically, politically, economically, and culturally — is that we are in the last days of our species, and I just don’t know what to do with that. The emotions are much too powerful, the grief, the sense of doom — how does one deal with the real possibility of the extinction of not just millions of species, but of one’s own species?”

Feeling isolated but resolved to act

Where does that reality leave us emotionally? My essay inquired specifically about the feelings that accompany the intellectual understanding that we live in a world in collapse. That question led not only to descriptions of those emotions, but strategies for dealing with them. No single comment could sum up so many different people’s responses, but this one comes close:

“So I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel amused at the absurdity of it all. I feel depressed. I feel enraged. I feel guilty and I feel trapped. Basically the only reason why I’m still alive is because there are enough amazing people and things in my life to keep me going, to keep me fighting for what matters. I’m not even sure how to fight yet, but I know that I want to.”

One common response was gratitude for having a place to communicate these thoughts without worrying about being ridiculed. Many wrote about how isolated they felt, even from friends and family who don’t want to talk about these matters and either deny there are reasons to be concerned or ignore the evidence:

“I’m a drug addict with over 20 years clean, and I know all about using up my future and farting out lame excuses. I promised myself an honest life to stay clean, and the double-edged sword is that I started seeing just how much our culture swims in denial.”

Pressing these importance questions about systemic failure and collapse leads to resistance from others, who then assert that the real problem is anyone who wants to talk about collapse:

“I have been writing for a year and a half on a lot of things as it pertains to humanity’s lack of awareness and the potential to reconnect before we destroy the earth and each other.  People get angry at me for it and call me ‘dark’ and ‘negative’ and ‘sinful’ telling me to instead move to the ‘light,’ ‘positive’ and ‘love.’  Whatever.”

Some see a general “desensitization to the destruction of our planet [that] is nothing short of heart breaking” and worry about what the loss of the capacity for empathy means:

“It is considered feminine and naive to care about trees or animals. … In addition, it is also considered weak and feminine to empathize or display a proper emotion. We are becoming a nihilistic culture which is creating citizens who are numb to their emotions. This is doing us all a disservice. We are missing out on our bodily wisdom and becoming less and less in tune with our earth.”

Though people have different views on the role of high-technology responses to ecological collapse, everyone who wrote recognized that more gadgets aren’t going to save us:

“I have thought for a long time that the human species, notwithstanding its endless self-flattery, really is not very intelligent. One of the signs of its stupidity is, in fact, the very way that it equates intelligence with technological prowess.”

One of the most compelling comments on advanced technology came from a doctoral student in engineering at a prestigious university:

“I have come to this firm conclusion that any more technological development is purely unnecessary and technological progress is hyper-glorified by the developed countries just as a tool to continue their agenda of robbing the resources of our planet from the third world (and perhaps soon from neighboring astronomical bodies, too). And what is glorified as the rational, intellectual research that folks like me are doing over here is just a means towards facilitating this robbing activity; this implicit imperialism; this invisible killing of our planet earth.”

People also recognize the inadequacy of technological solutions to the end of cheap, plentiful energy. While endorsing more research on alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas, those who wrote to me were wary of claims that alternatives can magically replace the concentrated energy of fossil fuels and allow us to motor on in our affluence:

“[T]he only way that the terrible catastrophes on the way could have been softened would have been for everyone on the planet to have dropped business as usual 10 or 20 years ago, and to have started retooling all of society while there was still a reasonable surplus of high EROEI (energy return on energy investment) fossil fuel left to power the *energetically* costly conversion process of re-engineering energy production, housing, cities, suburbs, farming, fishing, and transport. That didn’t happen. And having lived through the period, it would have been completely impossible to motivate in the first or third world. But just as important, it is *even more* unlikely that this will begin to happen now.  This is because growing energy scarcity will cut into our flexibility as people scramble to prop up floundering systems.”

In addition to these critiques of life in the affluent world, many wrote of the grotesque disparities in wealth in the world today. As we struggle with fears of the future, billions of people cope with severe limitations in the present:

“[W]e in the U.S. are essentially living behind a military barricade. I heard a quote recently that ‘collapse means having the same lifestyle as the people who grow your coffee.’ I really, really liked that.”

And in many of the critiques of the affluent First World, there was an understanding that the heart of the problem is the United States:

“Americans today are living with a profound and apparently irreconcilable disparity between what we say we are, and what we actually are. Between the promise of democracy and the reality of a crumbling empire. The result of this schism, I believe, is the national equivalent of a disassociated personality. And it’s not just our shared history of betrayal and abuse that has caused it. It’s the myth of freedom as well. In the mythology of freedom, democracy was supposed to empower us all to make a change for the better.”

Although some wrote with certainty about their conclusions, more people expressed confusion and weariness over the effort needed to understand such a complex world:

“I spend a lot of time in my own head going back and forth over theories, philosophies, etc. Pretty much going through a process once a month of discarding everything I thought I knew and re-learning it. While this may be a good thing in the future, it does not feel good now. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am alone and lost and that I can’t find any truth in anything because I have so many different voices telling me what is right and wrong. Yet, I can never stop going back and looking at what’s happening to this real, physical, lovely and loving planet and feel outrage, sorrow, and confusion and why this culture is so insane.”

Even with all this talk of their own struggles, the people who wrote were not asking others to feel sorry for them. Instead, the focus was outward, on how this affects others. That was clear in the comments not only of parents and grandparents, but also of people who chose not to have children — what is the fate of future generations?

“Being the parent of a young child right now is a mixed blessing: He’s my reason for waking up every morning and doing whatever it takes to keep up some semblance of normalcy, but it also frightens and worries me deeply when I think about his future.”

In the face of challenges that feel overwhelming — in the face of problems that may have no solutions — what should we do? Very few of the people who wrote suggested we should give up; most are committed to action:

“I guess the best thing we can do … point out problems, suggest solutions, work for radical system changes and not just reforms that too often are more cosmetic than substantial, and above all: keep the faith … and we need to project to others that we have the faith, or get the hell out of the work and retire or just wait for Armageddon.”

Many responses focused on the need not only to act collectively but also to reduce our consumption individually:

“I read a statement in the book Hard Times by Studs Terkel that I really liked: ‘Security is knowing what I can do without.’ Every day, I find something new that I can do without. My fiancé and I now grow much of the food we eat, we purchase necessities only, we shop at the Goodwill.”

and learn skills that have atrophied all too quickly in an affluent, high-energy culture:

“I’m not an old hippie that wants to return to sex, drugs and rock and roll on the commune. … I believe in hierarchy, rules and skills, but we must start something new, difficult and dangerous. We must also learn to not trust power and create small, subsistence communities. Instead of trying to mend the empire we should be teaching ourselves skills of our rural grandparents.”

Tipping points and panic

But still the question haunts us: What if the unsustainable systems in which we live are beyond the point of no return? There certainly are rational reasons to assume that we are past a tipping point.

For example, the March 2005 report of the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, based on the work of 1,300 researchers from 95 countries who spent four years examining 24 ecosystems worldwide, offered this “stark warning”:

“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. … Nearly two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are found to be in decline worldwide. In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets.” http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.429.aspx.pdf

This kind of knowledge can be so overwhelming that people feel it’s not safe to open up emotionally:

“I would like to mourn but have not been able to let my guard down.  I could understand 9/11, but now I am witnessing the destruction of the planet and I don’t understand the magnitude of what that means. I feel on edge. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

How to live in that world and remain fully engaged, intellectually and emotionally? This comment sums up the task and a path:

“Recently several of our visionary thinkers have moved from the illusion that ‘we have 10 years to turn this around.’ They now say clearly that ‘we cannot stop this momentum.’ It takes courage and faith to speak so plainly. What can we do in the face of this truth? We can sit face to face and find the ways, often beyond words, to explore the reality that we are all refugees, swimming into a future that looks so different from the present. We can find pockets of community where we can whisper our deepest fears about the world. We can remain committed to describing the present with exceptional truth. We can cultivate a practice that enables us to witness suffering with hearts and minds open and with our faces turned toward one another.”

It would be easy to close on that note, blunt but positive. But for many, that kind of approach is difficult. I sent my essay to a political activist who is one of the most well-informed people I know in matters concerning politics and ecology. His response:

“I guess my emotional reaction is actually to suppress the emotional reaction. … [P]anic, which would probably be the emotional reaction, is something to be deferred until the situation is relatively safe. So I try to think about what is to be done and can be done, and promise myself that if we do get past these crises, I will enjoy the moment to panic about how dangerous a situation we were in.”

My response:

“I understand what you say, but it seems to me that an appreciation of the nature of the crises is necessary for sensible strategy, and I don’t know how to engage that intellectually without having emotional reactions. … My fear is that if we don’t discuss it, those of us struggling with these emotions will fade away from collective action. So, instead of this kind of discussion necessarily leading to political paralysis, I think it can prevent paralysis in some people.”

My friend didn’t contest my analysis: “I don’t advocate for my emotional response, but it is what it is.”

Though he didn’t argue with me, I didn’t feel as if I had won an argument. Emotions are what they are, and we don’t “win” by telling people what they should feel. It’s enough of a struggle to understand what I feel and why I feel it; I don’t think I’m qualified to dictate to others what they should feel. In dealing with multiple crises on all fronts — economic, political, cultural, and ecological failures that pose a significant threat to human life as we understand it — it’s folly for any one of us to imagine we figured out the right approach, or that there is a single right approach, or that there is any right approach at all.

The only thing I’m sure of is that, to quote singer/songwriter John Gorka, “the old future’s gone.” The future of endless bounty for all, which some once imagined would be the product of the application of human reason to problems of the world, is not the future we face. How can we open a conversation about what’s coming when so much is unknown and so many resist? Rather than pontificate, I will end with the reflections of an elder:

“I’m about to celebrate my 70th birthday. I live in a rural intentional community, close to land that feeds us and supports us. I’ve lived long enough now to be very aware of how different the world has become, how the cycles of nature are off kilter, how the seasons and the climate have shifted. My garden tells me that food doesn’t grow in quite the same patterns, and we either get weeks of rain or weeks of heat and drought. This is the second year in a row that our apple trees do not have apples on them. But most people get their food in grocery stores where the apples still appear, and food still arrives, in season and out, from all over the world. This will soon end, and people won’t understand why. They don’t see the trouble in the land as I and my friends do. I grieve daily as I look on this altered world. My grandchildren are young adults who think their lives will continue as they have been. Who will tell them? They can’t hear me. They, and many others, will have to see the changes for themselves, as I have. I can’t imagine that anything else will convince them. My grief for the world, and for them, is compounded by this feeling of helplessness because there is no way we can have the collective action you speak of when the ‘collective’ is still in denial. Thank you for listening.”

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity;  The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege; Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity; and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.  An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is available here.

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here.

On Staying Sane In A Suicidal Culture

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm

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Oldspeak:The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world… I look at the path we’re on, to the future, as having a ditch on either side, We have to hold onto each other, not to fall into the ditch on the right or left, which are, on one side panic and hysteria, and on the other side is paralysis and shutting down. You see this in the US in spades. There is more and more social hysteria, greatly aided by the corporate media and finger pointing, scapegoating, the panic. The mass shootings on the one hand, and on the other hand a death-like grip on closing down, keeping your eyes focused on a narrowed down life, to the pressures of the moment and what you need to do to put food on the table… those who are still on the path and not in one of the ditches are seeing with clarity that it is curtains for our way of life because the prices being paid, or extorted, from the planet are too high… The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time.” -Joanna Macy

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”- Jiddu Krishnamurti

“Invaluable and sanity saving wisdom in this piece. I stay sane by meditating, chanting, practicing Yoga, eating lots of plants, earthing, communing with the natural world, practicing  mindfulness. Being fully aware of and radically accepting the Great Turning, Great Unraveling, and Great Dying we are all bearing witness to whether we choose to see it or not. Allowing and accepting myself for feeling the profound grief and despair for what is happening to our Great Mother and being with and nurturing those feelings not medicating or distracting them away. Being present, aware, kind, open-minded, smiling, laughing, practicing unattachment, understanding, compassionate, forgiving, unconditionally loving, freely giving, grateful, life-affirming open-hearted, and telling the truth (the most difficult of all). How do you stay sane while awash in this endless ocean of insanity that is the industrial growth society?” -OSJ

 

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

It was February 2005, and after several months of front-line reporting from Iraq, I’d returned to the US a human time bomb of rage, my temper ticking shorter each day.

Walking through morgues in Baghdad left scenes in my mind I remember even now. I can still smell the decaying bodies as I type this, nearly a decade later. Watching young Iraqi children bleed to death on operating tables after they had been shot by US military snipers has left an equally deep and lasting imprint.

My rage towards those responsible in the Bush administration bled outwards to engulf all of those participating in the military and anyone who supported the ongoing atrocity that was the US occupation of Iraq. My solution was to fantasize about hanging all of the aforementioned from the nearest group of light poles.

Consumed by post-traumatic stress disorder, I was unable to go any deeper emotionally than my rage and numbness. I stood precariously atop my self-righteous anger about what I was writing, for it was the cork in the bottle of my bottomless grief from what I’d witnessed. To release that meant risking engulfment in black despair that would surely erupt if I were to step aside, so I thought.

My dear friend Anita Barrows, a poet and writer, translated Rilke poetry with a woman named Joanna Macy whom I’d met once before, briefly. Anita, who is also a psychologist, had taken one look at me and shortly thereafter let me know Joanna wanted to have tea with me.

Shortly thereafter, I made my way over to Joanna’s home in Berkeley, driving through the chilled, foggy morning, unaware of how much help I needed at the time. I remember seeing only fog, not the trees.

I knew Joanna was an eco-philosopher and a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. I knew she and her husband Fran had been anti-nuclear activists for longer than I’d been alive, and that she ran workshops for artists, writers and activists called the Work That Reconnects, of which Anita had spoken very highly.

Beyond that, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.

Joanna invited me in, and we then went upstairs at her kitchen table while she prepared our tea.

After quietly pouring our mugs full, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, slowly, “You’ve seen so much.” My own grief beginning to be witnessed, tears welled in my eyes immediately, as they did in hers.

Thus began my learning about what those of us on the front lines of the atrocities being carried out against the planet, and those living amidst what she calls “the industrial growth society” must do, if we are to sustain ourselves, both within and without, as the future rushes towards us with ever increasing speed.

The Mortality of the Moment

“This is really happening. There’s nothing to stop it now.” These are the words of Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research for a recent report that showed the ongoing massive collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet that will raise global sea levels by at least 10 feet.

News like this finds us daily now, as the fire hose of information about the destruction the industrial growth society has brought to the planet gushes. It is an overwhelming amount of information. Being a mountaineer, every time I learn of the collapse of yet another massive glacial system, or the baring of a magnificent peak that was once gleaming in ice and snow, it feels like a punch in my stomach. Like I’ve lost a close relative, or a good friend. Again.

Macy, during the interview I did with her for this article, warned of the consequences of not allowing ourselves to access the feelings elicited by our witnessing.

“Refusing to feel pain, and becoming incapable of feeling the pain, which is actually the root meaning of apathy, refusal to suffer, that makes us stupid, and half alive,” she said. “It causes us to become blind to see what is really out there. We have a sense of something being wrong, so we find another target and project our anxiety onto the nearest thing handy, whether it is Muslims, or gays, or Jews, or transsexuals, or on Edward Snowden, who is now being accused of being a Russian spy and behind the Ukraine conflict. See how stupid we can be?” She laughed.

After a pause, she added, “The closer we get to midnight, the more we lose intellectual capacity. So not feeling the pain is extremely costly.”

As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, Macy has created what has been referred to as a “ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change,” as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application, to which this writer can attest personally.

Six months after having tea with Macy, I found myself with her and a few dozen others in the redwoods of coastal California, where for 10 days we dove deeply into the violence that was happening to the planet, what it meant to humans and all other species, and how dire our situation really was. (Today, several years later, it is of course far, far worse.)

I allowed myself to plunge into my grief around all I’d witnessed in Iraq – watching school children being shot at by US soldiers, refugee tents filled with widows weeping for their disappeared husbands, myself being shot at by US troops, car bombs detonating near me and then witnessing the carnage on the streets in the aftermath. I began to weep and was unable to stop for two days.

During one of Macy’s discussions, she said, “The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.”

For me, the price of admission into that present was allowing my heart to break. But then I saw how despair transforms, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into clarity of vision, then into constructive, collaborative action.

Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects” has been ongoing for decades, and has involved thousands of artists, writers and activists from around the world. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

“It brings a new way of seeing the world, as our larger living body, freeing us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on earth,” Macy said of this experience.

Her lifelong body of work encompasses the psychological and spiritual issues of living in the nuclear age and is grounded in a deepening of ecological awareness which has become all the more poignant as the inherently malefic industrial growth society of today’s corporate capitalism continues on its trajectory of annihilation.

“I look at the path we’re on, to the future, as having a ditch on either side,” she continued. “We have to hold onto each other, not to fall into the ditch on the right or left, which are, on one side panic and hysteria, and on the other side is paralysis and shutting down. You see this in the US in spades. There is more and more social hysteria, greatly aided by the corporate media and finger pointing, scapegoating, the panic. The mass shootings on the one hand, and on the other hand a death-like grip on closing down, keeping your eyes focused on a narrowed down life, to the pressures of the moment and what you need to do to put food on the table.”

Macy believes that those who “are still on the path and not in one of the ditches” are seeing with clarity that it is “curtains for our way of life” because the prices being paid, or extorted, from the planet are too high.

She sees all the people, particularly younger people, who are emerging to form a growing resistance movement against the tar sands and fracking as evidence of a “conscious acceptance of the mortality of the moment, that we have a narrowing window of time, and maybe we’re already into runaway climate change, but still we are doing what we can.”

From Personal Pathology to Non-Separateness

Macy’s own dark night of the soul occurred while she was involved in a lawsuit against a Virginia power company she was trying to stop from racking their nuclear fuel rods too close together. The company’s actions were illegal, in addition to the fact that such actions could very well have caused their nuclear power plant to go into criticality.

“My job was to gather data on health statistics,” she explained. “And even when there is no [nuclear] accident, the information I got was horrific in the extreme about how incidents of miscarriage and sterility and stillbirth and deformities rise the closer you get geographically to the nuclear installations.”

She was thrilled to have found the scientific proof, and truly believed, as do so many journalists who come across a big story, that when people knew the information they would wake up and, as Macy put it, “stop this dangerous folly.”

Hence, she saw firsthand that it appeared as though most people simply did not want to know the stark reality, even if it meant their willful ignorance was putting their and their families lives in grave danger.

“That was a turning point in my life, and that was the beginning of the Work That Reconnects,” she said.

She began experimenting in ways that people could deal with the truth of what was happening in the world, and found, instead, “It wasn’t that we didn’t care or didn’t know, but that we were afraid of getting forever stuck in despair, and immobilized.”

She told of the formation process of the work that now spans the world:

“What people ached to do was to tell the truth of their own experience. Tell what they know and feel and see what is happening to our world. And then they found the feelings they feared, the feelings didn’t last, and the feelings turned into relief and a sense of empowering solidarity with others, and they broke out of their self-imposed isolation into energizing collaboration.”

This message was and is, in fact, subversive to the message that pervades the dominant society because the message most people in the Western world are raised with is that the grief, outrage and profound sadness we feel for the world are reducible to a message that there is something wrong with us. Our genuine feelings and natural human responses are thus pathologized.

“Given the hyper-individualism of our culture, this phenomenon has resulted [in] building a nation of obedient people, isolated people,” Macy said. “And they turn their grief for the world against themselves, to try to fix themselves, to build an identity out of a consumer self.”

In one of her books, Macy addresses, precisely, how the corporate consumer culture we live in works to propagate the message that everything is fine: “Even if we have inklings of apocalypse, the American trance functions to discourage our feelings of despair and, if they persist, to reduce them to personal pathologies. Though we may respect our own cognitive reading of the signs, the spell we are under often leads us to imagine that it is we, not the society, who are going insane.”

Macy believes that “despair work” involves nothing more mysterious than telling the truth about what we see, know and feel is happening to our world, which are things that should be as simple as telling someone the time of day, “if it were not for all that isolates us from each other and befuddles us with self-doubt.”

“When corporate-controlled media keep the public in the dark, and power-holders manipulate events to create a climate of fear and obedience, truth-telling is like oxygen,” she has written.

In fact, she believes it is not in the self-perceived interest of multinational corporations, or the government and the media that serve them, “for us to stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.”

Macy went on to explain what her work really addresses, which is, in essence, the core of the human condition.

“We all ache to come home to a larger identity and belonging, and deep ecology as a movement has been very helpful in that regard, as has eco-psychology. But the practices in the Work That Reconnects fully validate what our true longing is. And it’s not to be numb and separate, but it’s to be together, even in pain. But then the pain gets transformed into passion for life and a bubbling up of compassion. Freeing yourself from that prison cell of the separate ego and the lonely cowboy ego.”

Macy believes in each of us is “a longing for coming home to the sacredness of our belonging to the living body of earth and the joy of serving that at every step.” (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Macy does not believe that becoming engaged in work for the betterment of the planet involves arduous sacrifice, but rather to do what at our deepest level we crave most of all.

“It is a longing for coming home to the sacredness of our belonging to the living body of earth and the joy of serving that at every step,” she said. “I make it sound easy but we can’t do it alone. Just hearing the news of what is happening each day on the planet, I can’t handle all of it alone. I’m not supposed to. Even looking at it requires we reach out to each other and take each other’s arm and I can tell you how I feel, and you will listen. The very steps we need to take bring us the relief and reward of the whole point of it, which is our collective nature, our non-separateness, because this is the only thing that can save us.”

The Loss of Certainty

Macy has been active in several large social movements throughout her lifetime, but it was her involvement in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s that acquainted her with the degree of danger, as she described it, “that truly seemed suicidal for our culture, and ecocidal for our planet.”

Watching the generation of radioactive materials at great speed and volume, and the growing production of nuclear energy and weapons “turned my mind inside out,” she explained, because she saw “that we were threatening the very basis of complex life forms” by “generating materials that will literally last forever, without realizing that disease and genetic mutation will inevitably follow.”

From that time on, she has felt we are all living on borrowed time, and that the present is now simultaneously “a scary moment and an absolutely necessary moment for us to wake up to certain realities.”

By certain realities she does not mean only the colossal, mindless damage humans are causing, “but to certain realities that are the same as the spiritual truths of the great religions and the indigenous traditions . . . that our earth is alive. It is a sacred being of which we are a living part. That we belong to the earth, and to each other, and once we get that, everybody is capable of knowing that because it is our true nature, then we can walk away from our stupidity.”

Nevertheless, she continues to believe it is going to take something earthshaking to liberate us in the Western world from our consumer culture and our “obedience to government industry and media, and especially to the power of money, which has tightened the corporate grip on the government, military and media.”

Macy believes that the ongoing crisis of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), which is intensifying daily, now provides the possibility to snap out of our cultural amnesia, and what she describes as “the delusion that we’re somehow separate from our planet that we can pollute and mine and destroy and contaminate. When we make that mental leap, which isn’t very big, there is a whole shudder of glorious coming to of the psyche and the relationships upon which our culture is built.”

Macy holds great concern and sadness about what her grandchildren, who are in their early teens, will face in the coming years as ACD progresses.

“Of course the sadness that I haven’t been able stop it, is beyond words,” she explained, beginning to weep. “It’s a sadness that has to go unspoken in a way, because right at the moment I’m working on a chapter in a book about working with youth and children, and how to talk to young people about this. But it’s the biggest challenge. And they are kept too busy, so glued to their electronic appliances, the whole culture is . . . you can’t live in this culture without being semi-hypnotized.”

Our situation so often feels hopeless. So much has spun out of control, and pathology surrounds us. At least one in five Americans are taking psychiatric medications, and the number of children taking adult psychiatric drugs is soaring.

From the perspective of Macy’s teachings, it seems hard to argue that this isn’t, at least in part, active denial of what is happening to the world and how challenging it is for both adults and children to deal with it emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.

These disturbing trends, which are increasing, are something she is very mindful of. As she wrote in World as Lover, World as Self, “The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time.”

The Razor’s Edge

Macy, who is also an author of 12 books, is well known for having coined “The Great Unraveling,” which references the collapsing of systems (both natural and human-made) under the weight of the failing industrial growth society that is literally consuming the planet. She is even better known for “The Great Turning,” which she believes is what is happening simultaneous to the Great Unraveling.

“The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time,” Macy said. “The shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits. In other words by how fast materials can be extracted from earth and turned into consumer products, weapons and waste.”

“All you can know is you’re allegiance to life and your intention to serve it in this moment that we are given.” (Photo: Global Oneness Project)

She believes that a revolution is already well underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying the world.

“We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water and meet rational energy needs,” she explained. “Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society.”

As in Buddhism, which urges practitioners to follow the “middle path” which Macy alluded to earlier, her Work That Reconnects calls on people to live with full awareness of both the Great Unraveling and Great Turning.

“Not closing our eyes but seeing clearly as we can the unraveling of the ecological and biological and cultural systems of our planet and of our minds,” she said. “The growing prospect of losing all complex life forms, and at the same time seeing the Great Turning to a life-sustaining society and taking part in it.”

Never before in history has humankind found itself amidst such a convergence of crises: runaway ACD, the global economy in chronic crisis, deepening militarism and surveillance, and a growing lack of food and water as the global population continues to explode.

While a great percentage of the population remains unaware that upward of 200 species are being made extinct each day, even greater numbers of people are ignorant to the very real possibility that humans may well be included in that number some day, whether it be from global thermonuclear war or runaway ACD.

Hence, Macy believes nothing short of a radical shift in consciousness is mandatory.

“What I’m witnessing is that this uncertainty is a great liberating gift to the psyche and the spirit,” she said. “It’s walking the razor’s edge of the sacred moment where you don’t know, you can’t count on, and comfort yourself with any sure hope. All you can know is your allegiance to life and your intention to serve it in this moment that we are given. In that sense, this radical uncertainty liberates your creativity and courage.”

Given that the planet has never been in such a state of chronic crisis, nor that humans have so starkly faced our own extinction, each of us must today find a way to cope, continue to function, and are called to evolve our ways of thinking and being.

Carl Jung warned that if humans didn’t evolve into a new planetary consciousness, we would, as a species, go extinct.

My experience showed me that if I had not evolved beyond my own war trauma, I, too, could well have become a statistic of some negative type. If for me it was indeed evolve or die, how can it not be thus as a species when we fathom the true gravity of crisis we call modern life?

About Joanna Macy

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a groundbreaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.

Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and contemporary science. The many dimensions of this work are explored in her books Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age (New Society Publishers, 1983); Dharma and Development (Kumarian Press, 198); Thinking Like a Mountain (with John Seed, Pat Fleming, and Arne Naess; New Society Publishers, 1988; New Society/ New Catalyst, 2007); Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory (SUNY Press, 1991); Rilke’s Book of Hours (1996, 2005) and In Praise of Mortality (2004) (with Anita Barrows, Riverhead); Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (with Molly Young Brown, New Society Publishers, 1998); Joanna’s memoir entitled Widening Circles (New Society, 2000); World as Lover, World as Self (Parallax Press, 2007), A Year With Rilke, (with Anita Barrows, Harper One, 2009); and Pass It On: Five Stories That Can Change the World (with Norbert Gahbler, Parallax Press, 2010).

Many thousands of people around the world have participated in Joanna’s workshops and trainings. Her group methods, known as the Work That Reconnects, have been adopted and adapted yet more widely in classrooms, churches and grassroots organizing. Her work helps people transform despair and apathy, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into constructive, collaborative action. It brings a new way of seeing the world, as our larger living body, freeing us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on earth. Joanna travels widely giving lectures, workshops, and trainings in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. She lives in Berkeley, California, near her children and grandchildren.

 

 

Mad Hominem: Why Hatred Of The Human Species Is Not Helpful

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2014 at 12:52 am

Oldspeak: “What then is the appropriate response to our abuse and neglect of the earth community? I believe that it should be one of remorse and accountability, but also of grieving our behavior and making restitution to the best of our ability in present time. When we do this, we end the wall of separation between ourselves and all other beings. And here’s the gut-wrenching part: We are deeply humbled and perhaps ashamed that on some level, we are as guilty as the rhino poacher or the seal-murderer….If our days on earth are as drastically numbered as they appear to be, if we have entered a hospice condition, then how do we wish to live? What does it do to us to despise other humans? What does it do to us to open our hearts to them?…. When we vilify other humans, we obviously separate ourselves from them, and we, among other things, perpetuate the Cartesian dualism of “myself and the other.” In so doing, we increase the likelihood of becoming violent dominators. We never have to like poachers and polluters, we may never break bread with a Monsanto chemist or hold hands and dance around the world with Jamie Dimon, but hospice is not the time for hating other humans. Hospice is a time for recognizing the tragedy of the human condition and the horrors of human behavior, as well as committing to the most serious and thorough review of our own lives as humanly possible. Hospice is a time for compassion—for ourselves and all beings on earth. Collective salvation may never come, but if any salvation is to come, it will only come, as Charles Eisenstein says, “…when we face up to the ugliness of our own past and feel the mirror image of the pain of every slave lashed, every many lynched, every child humiliated. One way or another, we must weep for all of this.” And yes, we must weep for the more-than-human world victimized by our madness.” -Carolyn Baker

“We live in a contrived reality that is built on and fueled by separation. Separation from the ecology, other humans… We’re encouraged to view the world through a prism of dualism and focus on the faults of the “other”. We’re taught to make ourselves feel good or bad based on our relentless comparisons with others. Our ego-based contrived “reality” enables a whole spectrum of madness we inflict on ourselves and by extension the ecology. This madness is destroying us and all life. We must accept this actual reality and choose replace our hatred, violence, competition, greed and selfishness with unconditional love, compassion and free giving. We must allow ourselves to feel the completely valid and authentic feelings of depression, of sadness, of remorse, of our part in the destruction of our ecology. it’s time to accept that we are one with all things, the “good”, the “bad” and the “ugly”, realize that those words are just that, words, and are wholly based on our perception and subjective experience. Recognize “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” Continued focus on separation, will only serve to speed up our death march to extinction. Take the time you have left in this realm to be more human. To be humbly and fearlessly with your present experience. To expand your awareness of the wondrous beauty, divinity and love that surrounds and is within. Realize that the universe is looking at itself through you.  You’ll be happy you did. ” -OSJ

By Carolyn Baker @ Speaking Truth To Power:

Eventually we will abandon our bunker mentality and understand that the only security comes through giving, opening, and being at the center of a flux of relationships, not taking more and more for self; security comes not from independence but from interdependence.

~Charles Eisenstein, Ascent of Humanity~

In the first episode of my current five-part webinar, my guest Andrew Harvey and I were emphasizing the importance of adopting an attitude of service and giving in this era of collapse and possible near-term extinction when at one point I received a question from a student which asked something like, “You mean, love humans? The scum that is destroying the planet?” (My paraphrase) At the time I gave a short response to the question, but it set me thinking about the necessity of a longer and more detailed response, and for that, I am profoundly grateful to the student. This article is my attempt to articulate why an attitude of service and giving in relation to humans is as urgent as serving and supporting other species and why contempt for humanity is not helpful, but perhaps even ironically, anthropocentric.

Ah yes, that dreaded word anthropocentric which is essentially an assumption that the human species is the center of the universe and holds more significance than other species or living beings in the cosmos. Once we fully understand what humans have done to this planet, once we grasp the ghastly, breath-taking, mind-boggling pillage, plunder, and ecocide that homo sapiens have perpetrated on the earth, we are hard-pressed not to despise them. I know this one well. I admit it. I’m extremely selective in the company I keep with humans, but I have many fewer barriers in the company of animals. When I can afford to make financial contributions, I am far more likely to give to organizations that protect or rescue animals than I am to give to causes that benefit humans.

Self-Flagellation Profiteth Nothing

Yet I have come to understand that while I honor my comfort with and magnanimity toward other species, it is important that I do not revile humans. In the first place, to vilify other humans is to vilify myself. When I do this, I am doing something that probably no other species is capable of doing. A hyena may be angry with another hyena for being territorial or stealing its food, but it is not likely to hate another hyena for being a hyena or even for being un-hyena-like. As friendly as a lion may become with a lamb, each knows instinctually what it is and that it will never be another species. When I despise other humans, and therefore myself, I unintentionally remove myself from the circle of terrestrial beings and unconsciously deem myself unworthy of walking and breathing on the earth. Rather than cultivating appropriate humility in the presence of other living beings with whom I share the planet, I declare myself not an equal, but less than other species. Vilifying myself and quasi-deifying another species serves neither the other being nor myself. In fact, it demeans my own animal nature, and regardless of how much I sing the praises of the animal kingdom, to deem myself less than the animal is to deny my kinship with it.

Moreover, when any human recognizes his or her part in harming another being, human or otherwise, they have two options. One may choose to vilify oneself or one may choose to take conscious, intentional responsibility for one’s error. This is where the rubber meets the road, and this is also where things get really uncomfortable. Taking responsibility for our transgressions against the earth community means that first, we acknowledge that we are part of a species that is murdering the planet. Perhaps we are not at the moment poaching rhinos or bashing out the brains of seals on behalf of the fur industry, but no matter how pristine our lifestyle may be at the moment, we have in the past polluted, littered, contributed to overpopulation by bringing children into the world, consumed far too much energy, wasted too much food, and not have come close to replacing what we have taken from Gaia.

What then is the appropriate response to our abuse and neglect of the earth community? I believe that it should be one of remorse and accountability, but also of grieving our behavior and making restitution to the best of our ability in present time. When we do this, we end the wall of separation between ourselves and all other beings. And here’s the gut-wrenching part: We are deeply humbled and perhaps ashamed that on some level, we are as guilty as the rhino poacher or the seal-murderer.

In fact, if we are impeccably honest with ourselves, we will be forced to acknowledge that there is a Dick Cheney and a pair of Koch brothers within us. This is called the human shadow, and it’s the curse/blessing of being human. The shadow is the part of us that we say is “not me.” The human ego says, “Oh I would never be a trophy hunter or work for the fracking industry.” Yet the unconscious mind knows otherwise. It knows that despite the cacophony of our arguments to the contrary, any one of us could be the poacher, the fracker, the drone operator, or the NSA snoop. When we are forced to face this reality, we are also humbled by the territory of the human condition in which we abide. As long as we project the image of “human scum” on our fellow homo sapiens, we get to feel better about ourselves because we don’t have to confront the shadow.  A moment ago I said that the shadow is a curse/blessing. The curse is very clear, but what is the blessing?

For me, the blessing is that when I confront the shadow, I am humbled into both grief and gratitude. I mourn deeply for my transgressions against the earth community, and I also grieve for the omnicidal acts of other humans (and my own in the past) which, if I am honest with myself, is the emotion that I am warding off when I vilify them. What is more, when I can own my part in the omnicide, I have the capacity to arrive at more gratitude for the earth community than my hatred of other humans could have ever wrought. I committed my transgressions against the earth community out of ignorance and misdirection by my culture and family and was never taught how precious, how exquisite, how breath-taking, how unequivocally amazing Gaia is. When I confront my shadow and mourn for the ways I have harmed the earth community (which is an act of self-forgiveness), I can savor it more incisively and more passionately, and this is what I want to experience more than anything as extinction intensifies.

This is not about letting oneself off the hook for anything. As Charles Eisenstein writes, “Does this mean that I can excuse myself from all the hurt I’ve caused in my life thinking, ‘Well, my wound drove me to it, and I needed to do that to recover’? No. The healing comes only through the realization ‘My God, what have I done?’ It is the remorse that is healing.”

How Do You Want To Live During Your Stay In Hospice?

If our days on earth are as drastically numbered as they appear to be, if we have entered a hospice condition, then how do we wish to live? What does it do to us to despise other humans? What does it do to us to open our hearts to them?

When we vilify other humans, we obviously separate ourselves from them, and we, among other things, perpetuate the Cartesian dualism of “myself and the other.” In so doing, we increase the likelihood of becoming violent dominators. We never have to like poachers and polluters, we may never break bread with a Monsanto chemist or hold hands and dance around the world with Jamie Dimon, but hospice is not the time for hating other humans. Hospice is a time for recognizing the tragedy of the human condition and the horrors of human behavior, as well as committing to the most serious and thorough review of our own lives as humanly possible. Hospice is a time for compassion—for ourselves and all beings on earth. Collective salvation may never come, but if any salvation is to come, it will only come, as Charles Eisenstein says, “…when we face up to the ugliness of our own past and feel the mirror image of the pain of every slave lashed, every many lynched, every child humiliated. One way or another, we must weep for all of this.” And yes, we must weep for the more-than-human world victimized by our madness.

In fact, unless we weep repeatedly, we can never know kindness toward anything as Naomi Shihab Nye proclaims in her classic, poignant poem, “Kindness”:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.

In some sense it is much easier to be kind to other species because they are the innocent ones. They have not left the planet in shambles. It is much more challenging to be kind to humans—the perpetrators, the plunderers we may despise but which some part of us has the capacity to become.

The human species is far more connected than it is divided. I speak not in platitudes but rather in terms of the hard science of quantum physics, and I heartily recommend Paul Levy’s recent article “Quantum Physics: The Physics Of Dreaming, Part 1.” John Archibald Wheeler, theoretical physicist and colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr stated that, “Nothing is more important about quantum physics than this: it has destroyed the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there’.” In fact, there is no “you” and “me.” Yes, you have a body separate from mine, and you live in another place on the planet, but we are interdependently connected.

Hospice can be nothing more than a waiting area on the way to extinction, or it can provide a deeper level of connection with all living beings than we have ever experienced, but in order for that to happen, our focus must be service and contribution. The question of the day and every day should be: How can I serve? What can I offer all other species and my own that will make their transition easier? Where can I offer kindness and compassion? This perspective requires an open heart, and while opening the heart always risks being rejected or misperceived, it also guarantees that at some point, one’s own heart will be met by another, and just one moment of profound connection with another heart, whether human or animal, could make life worth living and death worth dying.

So as my student asked: Are we to love and care for humans who have destroyed the planet? I answer with an unequivocal yes. If we accomplish nothing else in hospice, may it be that we fall back in love with the earth community, and yes, that earth community includes humans. “Our relationships—with other people and all life,” writes Eisenstein, “define who we are, and by impoverishing these relationships, we diminish ourselves. We are our relationships.”