[An essay I wrote six years ago. Still seems relevant.]
Coming Home, or: Early Morning Thoughts after the Community Meeting on What to Do about Climate Change
If you really loved your children, you would make a revolution.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
If you meet a Buddha on the road, kill him.
– old Zen Buddhist saying
And when we expand our notions of what we are to include in this story, we will have a wonderful time and we will survive.
– Joanna Macy
Because we are all in this together and mysteriously connected, I am assuming that what I find inside, others may too. Thus these reflections. They may or may not resonate with what others have felt and help us further elucidate our common way together in these critical times.
I had mixed feelings about last Saturday’s constitutive meeting of our local Climate Change action group. On the whole, I felt energised and positive. Fifty people met and brainstormed and discussed their ideas and set up some possible action plans. The organizers deserve a great pat on the back for all their work and effort before and on the day. However, in the background of my awareness there were also some faint gnawing feelings…
Two days later I woke up to a rapidly warming day and had an inner ‘voice’ saying: ‘a spiritual revolution is what is really needed’. I felt something had been missing on Saturday. I thanked the Night/Unconscious/Dreamworker/conscience/True Self or whatever It seems to be that ‘reminds us’ and ‘keeps us on track’, and set about writing down my thoughts before breakfast and another day of distraction and external activity.
Perhaps we are not responding fully, commensurately, to the depth of this global crisis now centred on Climate Change. Perhaps we are ‘under-responding’. Perhaps we all feel that. Deep down there may a gnawing sense of ‘there is something more to this than we have spoken of so far…’ What can it be?
After all, let us consider what we are talking about in the Climate Change debate. This new debate, since the Nicolas Stern Report (2006), is now framed as having about ‘ten years left’ to keep global temperature below an additional two degrees or else meet up with uncontrollable ‘tipping points’, a technical euphemism for horrendous disasters that threaten to overwhelm us all with permanent droughts, massive plant and animal dieback, hunger, death and starvation, inundated cities, mass migrations and wars.
This is thus about nothing less than a critical historical threshold, a crossroads, an evolutionary turning point for humanity and the planet. This is about the continuance of the planet as an habitable, mainly benevolent place This is about the survival of civilisation. This is about the future of our children and grandchildren and all the planet’s children and grandchildren.
Are we really responding to this mighty challenge?
There have been several ‘windows of opportunity’ in the past to change the obviously suicidal direction industrial societies have been moving in. These have all been missed. (Pessimists would, quite rationally, add: and thus it’s all too late now).
The ultimate ‘limits to growth’ of contemporary industrial civilisation that were seen and ignored by some of us in the 1970s are now increasingly becoming well and truly visible to increasing numbers of people. The Chernobyl disaster sent out some more deep messages about the limits of high energy societies to some of us in 1986. The local sustainability group I helped found in March 1989, Canopy Southern Highlands, was moved by very similar sentiments to those prevailing today. Canopy was founded in response to then widespread concern about what was then mainly called the Greenhouse Effect. At the time, the talk was ALSO of having ‘ten years left to turn it all around’. What we actually got in the ‘turn-around decade’ of the nineties were the farcical corporate co-options of ‘Rio’ and ‘Kyoto’, totally vacuous commitments to ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development’ and, crucially, rapidly rising emissions. Now we are getting the new corporate farces of ‘Kyoto’, a nuclear renaissance, the market voodoo so-called ‘carbon trading’ and rapidly rising emissions. Big Business and its governments are again succeeding in framing the debate in their own interests. The Greens seem to be going along. Are we again going to acquiesce in or even support this distraction, this travesty?
Is recent history just going to fatally repeat itself again, or have some insights been gained along the long path of missed opportunities? Perhaps we are again getting the overwhelming signals, but, again, failing to find the meaning of those signals?
Perhaps there is again the danger of our thoughts and feelings about this survival crisis facing humanity and the planet getting channelled into well-worn grooves. Grooves that will keep us locked into the very old, accustomed ways of thought and action that led us into this crisis in the first place. I strongly sense these grooves within our own Climate Change group Canwin.
The powers-that-be and their media, as well as very many of us ‘market personalities’ (Erich Fromm) who think in similar fashion, of course have a vested economic, political and, importantly, psychological interest in keeping everyone thinking that way. These people want to keep us telling ourselves the same old stories. The economy-centred stories and myths about ‘growth’, ‘development’, ‘markets’, ‘buying and selling’, ‘technological solutions’ old and new, ‘convincing our leaders’, ‘carbon trading’, ‘carbon neutrality’ etc etc etc. It may help to remember that these are Their stories, these are the Old Stories.
Here is where we have a choice. We can choose to continue to believe in and repeat these old stories or we can begin to realise that they are a central part of the problem and that we need to quickly develop our own, new, eco- , people- and soul-centred stories in order to talk about this crisis and act in such a way that we, at the very least, do not contribute to actually deepening the crisis, and, who knows, may even help to overcome it.
So, this crisis of humanity and the planet is, like all crises, a crisis and an opportunity.
An opportunity to either choose to stay locked in the old dominant story that caused the crisis or else to individually and collectively seek a New Story that will be the key to humanely overcoming and collectively surviving the crisis.
In my view, the process of finding this story together would necessarily involve deep inner change and thus approach something like a spiritual revolution. As in a personal therapeutic process, the process of collectively finding meaning in this total crisis of our industrial civilisation would involve a reviewing, modification or discarding of some of our ‘old baggage’, i.e. our personal and cultural beliefs and assumptions regarding the meaning of things like community, independence, mobility, work, true needs, freedom, justice, convenience, cooperation, nation, solidarity, politics, the economy, nature, and life itself.
This spiritual revolution would be of a piece with a deep social and ecological revolution, for there are no separations in reality as the Old Story would have us believe.
This text is my modest contribution to the collective development of a New Story.
(Note: There may be more than one New Story. The New Story may be an integral, coherent collection of new stories. My feeling is there are also certain to be many paradoxes in this New Story, since paradox is very likely the ‘barometer of enlightenment’, as an old saying would have it. The charm of paradox ‒ like poetry, mysticism, dialectics ‒ is that is starts to help us get beyond the disastrous old either/or, black-white, us-versus-other metaphors of the Old Story…)
The first key idea of the New Story may be that the all-encompassing planetary Crisis (climate change, peak oil, water depletion, species holocaust, chemicalisation and nuclearisation, resource wars, starvation, poverty and industrialisation…) is a strong, ‘last minute’ wake-up call by a very large cosmic System we call Planet Earth and of which we are an important part. The call is as much external as internal. It is the renewal that comes from squarely facing death.
This gives us a choice. Either to deeply respond to that call or to continue to distract from it, drown it out, ignore it. To deeply respond to the call is to become deeply response-ible. To ignore the call is to remain non-responding, to remain ir-responsible. Our so-called ‘leaders’ are distracting from, ignoring or denying the call and this irresponsible, immature denial is further endangering us all and our descendants.
This call is nothing particularly ‘mysterious’. It is felt inside, deep down, as facts perceived with the brain (via books or the media) and with the senses (e.g. strange weather patterns) are responded to not just by the cognitive, rational mind but by the whole body-mind. This type of response can be called ‘meditative’, ‘emotional’, ‘gut instinct’, ‘felt sense’ or ‘open awareness’ depending on taste or context.
When this whole body-mind response is allowed to fully happen, inevitably with us humans a verbalisation, a symbolisation, a New Story will emerge.
If we accept the ‘wake-up call’ metaphor, then one important element of this New Story is that this crisis of humanity and the potential death of hitherto evolved life on the planet is, like an individual death, an opportunity to understand ‘what it’s all about’, ‘what finally matters’, also often known as ‘truth’ or ‘reality.’
The increasingly obvious truth and reality of this Crisis, to any open, whole body-mind awareness, is that we are One Human Family living on one Indivisible Planet. This may be the second key metaphor of the New Story. It expresses a deep sense of Solidarity with all people everywhere and with all living beings.
The perhaps less obvious correlative truth of this notion is that our own true nature (or ‘Self’) is also that Human Family and Planet, that all is truly One, a ‘Seamless Web’, ecologically, economically, spiritually.
In contrast, the Old Story wants to keep telling us something very different: that we are separate. That we are separate egos, individuals, genders, classes, communities, races and nations. That we are people facing and thus separate from a so-called ‘environment’. That we must all seek our so-called ‘comparative advantage’ and compete with each other and with nature or the so-called ‘environment’ to survive. The Old Story is, in essence, a Story of Separation, and is thus inherently centred on conflict, violence, war, hierarchy, oppression, unnecessary suffering, ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.
The Old Story also seeks to separate means and ends, actions and consequences. It tells us that we can get out of this mess by continuing to do all the things that got us into it. With ‘green the new black’, we can consume our ‘green’ way out of the destruction that our consumerism has caused. We should continue to worship what it calls ‘the economy’ and to believe in the rotating and interchangeable series of political and corporate ‘leaders’, ‘experts’ and gurus to get us out of this. We should vote for a new lot of leaders who will ‘get on with the job’ and ‘fix the problem’ for us. We should go through yet another illusion-disillusion-apathy, yes-we-can-sorry-no-we-can’t cycle. We should continue to believe in the magic of all kinds of technical wizardry and band-aids (nuclear energy, clean coal, geo-engineering, mega-renewable energy) to solve what are in essence deep social, ecological and spiritual problems. We should never ask about the deep structural and mass psychological or spiritual causes of the crisis. We should never develop historical knowledge or ecological literacy.
The Old Story comforts us by telling us that we need make no deep changes in ourselves, society or technology. It tells us we can continue to have our affluent middle class cake and eat it if we continue to buy and sell and ‘trade’, and ‘grow’ and go nuclear or ‘green’. Most environmentalists would seem to share this comforting delusion. We do not have to make do with less, we do not have to share, we do not have to make material sacrifices, we do not have to cooperate with each other, we do not have to take over material responsibility for ourselves and others, we do not have to change economic and political power structures so that we can collectively negotiate the running of our communities and investment decisions. All we have to do is just continue to consume our luxuries and ‘green products’ while the poor who have no ‘comparative advantage’ to sell can starve or drown or fry. As we close our nation’s gates to those fleeing the horrors we are co-responsible for, we might, on a good day, even throw them the odd crumbs of charity to assuage our guilt.
The New Story says such manifold separations are a dangerous illusion that has now become lethal. There are no separations in the Reality of which the Great Crisis is an uncomfortable reminder. Today’s car race, leaf blower, jet ski, air conditioner or frivolous plane trip is tomorrow’s melting ice, flooded city, bombed civilian or starving infant. Today’s imperialism is tomorrow’s terrorism. Today’s denial or ignorance of material and spiritual Oneness is tomorrow’s climate catastrophe and tomorrow’s tsunami of material and spiritual suffering.
What role may ‘leaders’ have to play in such a New Story? In the Old Story they are supposed to develop a mysterious entity called ‘political will’ and then lead us out of this mess through their wisdom and selfless decisions for the ‘national interest’ or the ‘common good’. Some say we should put all our energies into ‘convincing our leaders’.
From the New Story’s perspective, however, leaders are, on the whole, a key part of the problem itself. They are, overwhelmingly, not only the key propagators, but the very symbols or incarnations of the Old Story. They are the key decision-makers and order-givers in business and politics who thus carry the main responsibility for structural economic injustice, mass murders in imperial wars, for ongoing ecocide and the imminent demise of the planet. In a just world they would have to face the full force of a Nuremberg Trial for their crimes, not be ‘convinced’ of the errors of their ways and begged to lead us out of crisis.
The fact is, however, that these ‘leaders’ could not function for one minute without popular collusion and consent. A mass inner and outer withdrawal from this ecocidal system, mass non-cooperation, would see it collapse. In contrast, when we invest emotional energy in the distractions of the electoral spectacle and believe in them like little children in their beneficent parents, these leaders represent that part of ourselves that is separative, infantile, narrow and fearful. Our naïve belief in them in turn strengthens those similar elements in them, empowers them to seek to reinforce and capitalise on our fears in order to strengthen their own power, a vicious narcissistic circle without end that can easily spiral into some form of outright fascism. Fear has always been the main tool of ruling classes throughout history. It still is.
When we ‘buy’ their fear-and-separation-based notions, we thus self-abdicate our own power, our own inner spaciousness and mature awareness. We give up on true democracy. The Old Story itself expresses this unacknowledged fear, this anxious narrowing of awareness, this cutting off of Oneness. Denied and unconscious, this fear copes by a manic defence, by a ‘flight forward’, away from itself, into ‘Power-Over’ (power over ‘the other’, whether in everyday conversation or socially over other gender, race, nationality or technologically over plant and animal). We have probably all experienced in ourselves such a manic or aggressive defence mechanism against fear to some extent.
The Old Story also separates the small individual from the ‘Big Picture’. It wants us to leave the latter to ‘experts’, ‘leaders’, ‘academics’, ‘philosophers’ and ‘spiritual leaders’. It always tells us how awfully ‘complex’ everything is and much too ‘specialised’ for the common man and woman to understand, much less decide upon.
In contrast, the New Story says the small, local and individual is thoroughly formed and in-formed by the Big and the Whole, that every individual being is an expression and carrier of the Whole. One paradox of this is that it thus both makes a huge difference when we think and act differently on an individual and local level and, from another perspective, it of course makes no ‘difference’ at all.
A similar paradox of the New Story is that there is both an awful lot to do to collectively survive humanely and, in another sense, there is nothing to ‘do’ at all. Manic, blind, meaninglessness- and fear-denying ‘doing’ is precisely what got us into this mess. It is more a case of inwardly detaching from and getting beyond a busy-busy turbo-charged doing, a Taoist or Zen case of ‘not doing’ (wu wei), of ‘getting out of our own way’, of unblocking, of fully and consciously realising what we are doing, and what we are, already. Right now, eternally. Whatever level you look at it, from body to community to biosphere: dispassionate, scientifically spiritual observation reveals that we are One Community of Beings.
Zen Buddhism speaks of ‘looking for the ox while riding it’. All we have to ‘do’ is ‘not do’, i.e. consciously realise what is already eternally the case. We can never, in Reality, fall out of ‘the world’, out of our own True Nature. There is terrible separation and thus suffering and, in Reality, there is no separation at all. We are One Humanity, One Planet. Suffering is enlightenment. This world, this wheel of fortune (‘samsara’) is nirvana. Great art, dance, music and literature, even when fragmented, ‘ugly’, dissonant, also express this insight. Here, with this mindset, we become internally spacious again. In this spaciousness, Life itself is mystery and paradox and the nitty gritty of everyday life, everyday beauty, everyday troubles. Stars and bills and cabbage soup, a drop of dew reflects the moon. This is perhaps the ultimate rationally ‘mysterious’ paradox of the New Story. It helps to have a sense of humour.
From the viewpoint of the New Story, the Great Crisis of which climate chaos is a key expression can thus also be a form of Coming Home. A coming home to the future of One Human Family on One Planet. And to the Oneness that we have always been without consciously knowing it. Can we now consciously know it and act from there? If not now, then when? Is this not our real ‘window of opportunity’ from which all other social change might flow?
On one level, this kind of radical understanding (or some other version thereof that you may prefer) may seem like a merely ‘internal’ change or revolution. Yet this would be another separation between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. Of course this separation also exists when you feel narrowed into your usual worrisome self or struggling everyday ego. In Reality, when there is Space, this ‘inner’ revolution cannot be separated from an ‘external’ or social revolution. The latter would equally entail a sense of freedom and spaciousness, a radically democratic Open Space of communication among equal humans in which the unknowable synergies of the whole larger System would let the truly new guiding ideas and actions, the New Story, emerge. Can we create and maintain such an open space within the conversational process of our climate change group? Could this be the ultimate ‘leverage point’, the individual and collective fulcrum for deep solutions to the global systemic Crisis?
My last question to myself, to the Climate Change group and to any concerned reader is, again, this: will we now again fearfully retract either into apathy, après moi le déluge and depression and/or into the old stories and ways done up as ‘new’ economic and technological ‘solutions’ and thus help prolong the painful agonies of decline and collapse?
Or can we now open to the emerging space inside ourselves and within our communities to let this New Story emerge? It would seem that now the very lives of our children and grandchildren may depend on it.
~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 9, 2012.
Posted in climate change, critical theory, eco-social theory, essays, metaphysics, photography, social change, social theory
Tags: civil society, climate change, climate chaos, photography, revolution, seaside photography, social change, spiritual revolution