Giving thanks in a time of diminishment

Posted November 22nd, 2011 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I had all sorts of plans for my one post this week.  I have stories all lined up here, about the collapse of the middle class and what this means for our prospects for abundant ecologically sane life. I have articles on the new studies showing that we have reached records levels of CO2 and that global warming/climate change predictions are becoming increasingly dire. I have all sorts of collected news about the emerging phenomenon of grassroots movements that are challenging not merely a status quo of inequity, injustice, and violent repression, but a whole mindset and worldview that goes back centuries.

Thin blue line - NASA photo

But then I realized that’s not what I want to write about. I just want to give thanks – even in this diminished world, even in the midst of crisis and catastrophe, I want to give thanks.

Last weekend after a daylong conference in Illinois that had me pretty full up, I got home in the early dark and needed a walk. So I went down to the park and lakefront. As I crossed this street a half block from me, a coyote suddenly appeared out of the darkness in the park and trotted into the street. No cars to be seen, thankfully. We encountered each other warily, and I just stood there amazed.

I mean, we have heard stories of coyotes coming up the lake bluff, but right here in my ‘hood? The coyote paced back and forth for a while, then turned and started running back into the park. Everything in me wanted to follow, but I decided that was a bad idea.

I know about coyotes from a long journey I once took to the west. The Creator and Trickster. I once encountered one at the edge of the Grand Canyon in a sudden raging blizzard, one of those pure moments of exhilaration when you know you are absolutely fully alive. The dawn had come up that day warm and sunny. I walked into the canyon a bit on the Bright Angel Trail, but was aware of the forecast that by noon it would turn colder, windy, and rainy. As I came up out of the canyon, the change was already coming.

So I drove to the East Rim to get away from the tourists at the South Rim. I found a place to park along the edge and watched the magnificent rainstorm seeming at times to come up out of the canyon, over the edge and right into my face. Clouds swirled into and over the walls. It was thrilling. I pulled up my hood and a rain poncho and took some shelter behind a tree and some rocks to avoid getting pelted in the face with the cold rain.

And then, in a second, in a moment, just like that, the rain turned to snow, furious and raging in the wind gusts. Now it  was the snow blowing up out of the canyon over the edge, sharp and stinging and I settled deeper into my hood. After some time, I realized that the snow was accumulating quickly and I was alone, so it occurred to me that it might be best to leave this spot while the car could still do it. And that’s when I encountered the coyote, like a ghost appearing in the blizzard.

Now again on Superior Street.

Stormy sky - Photo: Margaret Swedish

What I want to say is this: I do this work not out of anger or despair, but out of gratitude. Gratitude for this world that put that blizzard and that coyote in my path.  I have often thought of that moment as a kind of rebirth in the midst of a difficult transition. It’s how this majestic and magical planet comes to us to work on our spirits, to converse with us in those moments when we are truly opened and able to receive.

We don’t usually open like that willingly. It often comes from pain, fear, loss, those moments when we feel we are bereft and have lost our moorings, our sought-after security (which is not, is never, real), the old beliefs that no longer work, the way life sometimes brings you to that moment when you realize you have no answers, no way to resolve or escape the necessary inward journey where life has left you – on that edge, the edge of a monumental cliff in a blizzard where all sense of perspective, time, space, and certainty has been swept away.

Or, if you are very American and utilitarian, you could just say I had a couple of accidental encounters with coyotes.

And this is what we have lost. By severing our connections with the natural world, even though we are embedded in it (which is why we cannot destroy it from outside but only from within, meaning we are destroying ourselves), we have lost the ability to experience magic, the 2-way conversation, what that world, so much bigger than us, more ancient, embodying so much more wisdom than our rational brains can ever know, has to teach us.

Because that is where I believe the answer to our ecological crisis lies – not in our heads, not in the human, but in the wisdom of creation itself, what it knows about how to survive, how to live sustainably within habitats, how to protect them, how to live by taking care of needs, not by taking as much as you can for yourself. It learned this wisdom by a whole lot of trial and error, extinctions and new creations, lost eras and emerging new ones.

I think we are living through an era being lost, we are on its losing tide, the waning side. And because that is the case, we are scared, greedy, insecure, seeking certainties and fundamentalisms, clinging to what we know because letting go the shore feels so terrifying. Fact is, where we are headed into a world in which we do not yet know how to live.

And so we must learn. And the learning will come hard. It always does. The earth is responding to us and our industrial civilization in harsh ways. It needs to adjust; it needs to throw us off – to throw off that civilization, figure out how to emerge from it, how to absorb all these awful blows and find a new equilibrium. The question for we humans is whether or not we want to be a part of that journey, a participant, a survivor, a co-creator. Because the alternative is not something I like to ponder.

Ice scultpures along Lake Michigan - Photo: Margaret Swedish

Can we say to our time, we didn’t mean to create this crisis, that industrial civilization brought us amazing ways of life that we now find to be more than not sustainable, but destructive of the very web of life in which we are embedded? Can we say, thank you, all you inventors and innovators, factory workers and miners, industrialists and investors, consumers of what was invented, mined, assembled, and put on our store shelves – but we have discovered that this way of life is creating a crisis of life itself and we have to stop now, okay?

Can we then, bright creative people that we are, put our minds to another use – not to continue to innovate and produce within this paradigm, but to find new forms of human labor, security, and community in the creation of a wholly new way of life that is in sync with the web, responding to what nature needs to do to heal and find that new equilibrium?

I know we will not do this willingly, nor will we do it in time to stave off multiple catastrophes. In many ways, it is already too late for that – which is not reason for despair, but reason to get to work. If we can’t save the old equilibrium, we can get about creating the life that will make it possible to adapt while limiting the damage so that enough resilience remains within ecosystems for the renewal and re-creation to take place.

We are living in a time of diminishment, many, many diminishments. I give thanks in this time of diminishment. For what?

Just after sunrise - Photo: Margaret Swedish

For all those who are responding to ecological life by seeking to live radically differently. For occupiers and tars sands action protesters and recall petition organizers and all those who by these actions show this basic belief in the human ability to make change. For ecovillages and transition initiatives and community supported agriculture and eco-education centers and earth spirituality centers and all those backyard gardeners and permaculture folks and on and on, who with their hands and hearts and a whole lot of relinquishment are already creating the new way of life.

I thank the crisis itself for teaching us once more what we are a part of, that we are not separate from nature and the earth’s beauty and wonder, but deeply embedded within it. We are learning again who the human is within it. It is a deeply, deeply humbling lesson.

And I give thanks for all of you who visit here, who read this stuff, who care and love this earth, who do so much for its healing and the healing of the human community within it.

Have a great long weekend. If you have a moment to share a thought here, please do. And if you have a little extra you can send along to help keep us going, well, gratitude, yes. Donations are all that support this project. To those who have helped us out this year, our abundant thanks!




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One Response

  1. Bev LoGrasso

    Margie-Beautiful shots! Your reflection recalls Jaonna Macy to me-Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age-wherein she helps us be grateful, say good-bye as part of a grief process which makes way for the new…
    I join you in giving thanks to the Trickster-Creator who got this old ball rolling…wherever it may lead, I am grateful that we walk the path together… Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Bev