Momentous. We can all feel it. The atmosphere is simmering with tensions, transitions, signs of tumultuous changes – in the culture, on the planet. There is not space to recount all that has happened in this country in just the time since we last posted here, events that have opened wide the simmering cultural tensions around race, gender and human sexuality, democracy v religious orthodoxy, corporate rights over the rights of humans and the planet, free trade for corporations at the cost of the ecosystems we need for life.
And then there’s the weather – one extreme after another.
It’s all stunning stuff and for me highlights once again that we are living in extraordinary times. Nothing feels solid anymore and those trying to reassert solidity in culture, politics, and ecology are increasingly frustrated that a world of certainty they constructed around themselves is falling apart.
Chaos and flux rule now. And what we have to decide is how we want to live in that reality.
Big stuff is going on – really big stuff – and the way humans as individuals, cultures, religions, tribes, nations have been thinking of themselves for centuries now is no longer working. Meanwhile, something else is emerging all around the planet. Some of the most powerful expressions of this are within indigenous communities, and among the poor in places like Ecuador and Bolivia, India and El Salvador, Appalachia and northern Alberta, out of “spiritualities” or life experiences that most affluent, well-educated westerners cannot even imagine. We see the world through a cultural fog of our consumer items and technology, through screens that we think show us ‘reality’ more than our own eyes and ears and physical contact with Nature and one another, through a vast media cloud that holds our attention in a massive form of distraction from reality.
And still Charleston and Obama’s eulogy and the California drought and the Greek default and the ISIS attack on tourists in Tunisia and marriage equality and the recent arson attacks on black churches and the Shell drilling rig on its way to explore for oil near a land burning from record warmth and drought… Still smoke from hundreds of wildfires in western Canada wafts over the tar sands industrial region and down over the heart of our nation. Still fire storms explode in the forests of Washington State.
Momentous times – huge, consequential, extraordinary. So, now what?
A lot of my time gets filled with reading what many of us used to call the “signs of the times,” news about the world and where things seem to be headed, what’s underneath the events, or what these events, these signs, are indicating about the reality in which we swim. Of course, I do this in part for the most practical reasons, because of the work we do here, the writing, workshops, and PP presentations, or to share important news on our Facebook page and among colleagues and friends. Which means, of course, that each day I have to look at a lot of depressing news, hard to take in, emotionally and psychologically draining.
A few recent examples: NOAA’s research lab on Mauna Loa recorded an average May CO2 reading of 403.94 ppm. That’s up from 401.78 in May 2014. Remember that supposedly magic number 350, the one that James Hansen says is the safe level to avoid dangerous climate change, the number embraced by Bill McKibben, that was adopted as a national movement around global warming? Humans won’t see that CO2 level again for centuries, maybe longer. Carbon emissions keep rising, and will continue to rise through this century – maybe, if we’re lucky, to somewhere between 450-500 ppm; and, if we’re not, well, let’s not go there quite yet…
Oh, and by the way, NOAA has also recorded that the January-May 2015 period was by far the hottest such period ever recorded globally. We are definitely headed to a record-shattering year. One impact? Devastating heat waves in India and Pakistan, among other places, that have directly caused thousands of deaths. Alaska is sizzling not only with heat but with literally hundreds of wildfires. Recent studies show the fire season up there comes earlier, is stronger, and lasts longer with each passing year. Meanwhile, fires are burning forests in California, Oregon, and Washington State, also in Alberta and Saskatchewan, in what is turning out to be, as predicted, the worst wildfire season in the West ever – and it has barely gotten started.
Meanwhile, NASA has reported that more than half of the Earth’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted by a combination of human overuse and climate change. And this story – the signs that the predicted Sixth Great Extinction has begun.
Momentous — all of this. So, now what? I mean, what is the point of sharing all this overwhelmingly sad news?
Well, here’s what I think – I think we have to get over our fear of seeing the big picture. We have to stop being so reluctant to tell the truth about our predicament. We have to stop being so afraid of grief and despair because these are completely appropriate and fully human responses to what is happening to the planet, and we can use these feelings, channel them in healthy ways. In reality, I keep running into people who know exactly how bad things are anyway, but who suffer because they feel so alone and so afraid for the future, especially if they have kids. The debilitating form of despair comes from the isolation and loneliness one feels when there is no way to connect with others, to have spaces where we can share the fear and despair and learn what to do with them. In reality, these kinds of intense feelings can be channeled into bursts of creative energy, into rethinking our lives and figuring out what we can contribute toward shifting this culture away from what is destroying us.
When we engage with others, when we create and act out of that engagement, suddenly we don’t feel so lonely and helpless. This is true ecological work because it is exactly how Nature works. What is needed to address the despair and fear is community.
What is not needed is to believe we can somehow remain within, or return to, some normal that is coming to a crashing end. What is not needed is more denialism – not just among climate change skeptics but among those who neglect to point out, or don’t want to believe, that our predicament is far larger and more comprehensive than what is happening to climate. In reality, we could begin to address climate by quickly reducing carbon emissions, but there would remain the biggest crisis of them all – that we have overshot the biological capacity of the planet. Warming climate or not, it cannot carry humans at these levels of extraction, production, consumption, and waste. Global warming is a symptom of the disease, it is not the illness itself.
So, we come back to that question of community! Now we’re getting to the point of this essay, the answer to the question, “now what?” Think about the People’s Climate March last year in New York. Think about the creativity and inspiration produced out of that event – not just in the march itself, but in all the preparations, the making of signs and banners, organizing buses and local fundraising events. Think about the response of Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, the powerful community coming together out of stunning trauma and grief and witnessing to all of us another way of responding to a hate crime of this magnitude – taking some of the energy out of the intensity of the racism that still pervades our society.
It is amazing what we can do in community. We lose a lot of our fear. We find courage we never knew we had. We begin to discover that “things” have often replaced what we really want in life – connection, human connection, a common cause, shared meaning and struggle, a sense of purpose.
Community is ecological, it is how Nature works. The concept of the “individual,” or the autonomous actor, does not exist in Nature. No one is alone or isolated, no matter how much we feel that way in this consumer culture. Restoring that experience of profound connectedness is one of the things we need to do now – with a sense of urgency…
…with our human sisters and brothers in all their diversity, and with our fellow sentient and non-sentient beings that are all part of the eco-web that made us possible and within which we dwell in profound interdependence.
Really, I promise, it is a much more fulfilling, spiritually and emotionally satisfying, enriching, joyful way to live, no matter the conditions of the world around us. If we want to help “fix” that world, heal it for the sake of life, then this is one of the steps we need to take –
…develop diverse, inclusive, communities rooted in a profound sense of solidarity where issues of eco-social justice come together, where we listen to one another deeply and contemplatively, share insights into how we perceive this moment of transition and how to move forward into a new paradigm of co-creativity with Mother Earth – this Mother whom we have so abused despite her incredible generosity!
We need new kinds of relationships with one another and the planet. And this is something of enormous importance to the Center for New Creation. As we look ahead, part of our mission now is to help create and foster “spaces” where people can come together to read the “signs of the times,” develop relationships of solidarity, begin to articulate the new paradigms of transformation, what they would look like, and how we begin to live into them.
As time passes and the various crises of our times deepen, I find myself moving more and more away from the notion of activism and social change as issue-driven and tactics-focused. That feels more and more like an endless game of whack-a-mole when what the times require is a deep engagement in creating wholly new cultures and ways of life. The actions we take need to come out of shared reflection on the nature of the times in which we live and help build and nurture those new cultures. We need to build resilience and trust into our communities even as we work to address, or confront, the “issues” of the day.
Think Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole in Charleston and taking down the symbol of the Confederacy – and she a descendent of slaves that were sold on the auction block in that city. She didn’t do it alone, she did it with a community of friends surrounding her and at a time when her action would have maximum impact as a cultural expression.
Think the “kayactivists” in Puget Sound confronting the monstrous Shell oil drilling rig. Or think Obama rising to the occasion for his eulogy in Charleston. Or think school kids working on a project about saving the polar bears from extinction. Creative ways of expression that when done in conscious recognition of interconnectedness, when done ecologically, help create the new cultures we need to live through the painful transition time now underway.
For me, that’s the answer to the “now what?” That’s where we want to focus more of our attention in this little organization as we rethink the role we might play in the work of “new creation.”
~ Margaret Swedish
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