The tension can no longer be held – the time to decide is now

Posted October 22nd, 2015 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The tension can no longer be held – the time to decide is now

There are two contradictory energies, points of tension, that have become too extreme to hold any longer. Both are developing at the same time. The tensions between the two are becoming intolerable. And that’s part of the pain of our times – that more and more of us SEE the interconnected webs of life, the beauty and magnificence of their complexities, how everything is held together by this web at the same time as we are dismantling it, shredding it, tearing out so many threads that we are not sure how much longer it can hold together.

Climate thresholds
Extinction thresholds
Population thresholds
Water and arable land thresholds

And then there’s that little human problem of violence and war, which is increasing as one of our species’ responses to these extreme tensions. Most of us intuit that we can’t go on like this much longer, that we are arriving at the breaking point. We don’t know how to give up the security of worldviews and paradigms that have become so familiar and comfortable, at the same time we know we have to. Many of us wish we could put it off a little while longer, but that little while longer that we had counted on has run its course.

It turns out that we, this generation, those of us alive right now on this planet in this moment are the ones that have to make “The Great Turning.” If we don’t, we can’t say anymore if even the younger generations alive now or coming into existence now will have any reason to believe that this planet will be gracious and abundant and kind to them, as it has been to us for tens of thousands of years.

From Apollo 8 - NASA

Home – Apollo 8

I’ve been doing social justice work, and now that combined with ecological justice, all my adult life, since my college days. And yet there is still a voice inside of me that says, “now? does it have to be now?” Even though I live as simply as I ever have in my life, I know that the magnitude of the change necessary, and the deepening of the resistance to that change for those comfortable and privileged in the world-as-it-is, will translate into some very tough times for we humans – painful, wrenching. Letting go one’s grip on the edge of a cliff ain’t easy when you don’t know what the fall will be like or if you will survive.

I was sharing with my book group this morning that what is occurring is the very thing I’ve longed for much of my life – the collapse of US empire, the looming and chaotic end of corporate capitalism, the collapse of world finance in the hands of big banks and global financial institutions. I longed for these collapses so that local economies, steeped in local cultures and embedded in bioregional eco-communities, could find space to emerge, to breathe, to come into being and get organized. I’ve known for a long time that our path out of crisis goes in this direction.

The end of consumer culture and the birth of new meaning for the human – I’ve kind of longed for that. Right now we live in an economic regime in which the major role of the U.S. person is to consume stuff – 70% of our economy is that, and most of it is financed by debt (auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt being the big three right now). If we end that, we end this economy. Because we have no plan to do that, collapses like the one in 2008 will happen over and over again at greater frequency. Such are the laws of advanced, late-stage corporate capitalism, and the industrial growth economy to which it gave birth, especially since World War II.

Profligacy has not served us well – not the planet, not the human community, not the search for meaning.

And still, it’s hard to say, “Yeah, bring it on!” when we haven’t prepared and therefore the collapses will be very tough to endure.

Charles Eisenstein describes this tension aptly in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.

It is quite normal to fear what one most desires. We desire to transcend the Story of the World that has come to enslave us, that indeed is killing the planet. We fear what the end of that story will bring: the demise of much that is familiar.

Then he says what I keep saying over and over again:

Fear it or not, it is happening already.

Right, we’re at the point where it’s upon us, ready or not. Holding on to privilege will get increasingly painful in moral terms because, with the technology we have, the impacts of trying to hold this economic paradigm in place (and the philosophical paradigm that goes with it, supports it, provides its framework) will be unavoidably visible to us all.

I have written and spoken often these days about the two major themes of human life, two revelations, that are in extreme tension now and which tension will only increase in the days ahead – until we want to scream. One is represented by what we are learning about the universe, the wonders of creation that science and technology keep giving us as we probe farther and farther out into the beyond and then beyond that. Here is one example of what I mean:


Gigapixels of Andromeda video

Are you awestruck? Do you feel small? Do you wonder what life on this little planet means in the context of this view – which is only one small portion of one galaxy in a universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies? And yet I ask myself – what does it mean that we puny creatures on this tiny planet have the capacity now to look out into the universe like that, the Hubble Space Telescope being our eyes, the eyes of the species doing something we have need to do since the dawn of consciousness – SEEK, seek knowledge, understanding, a sense of what this is that we are a part of, even though we also know now that we will never find IT.

And the other theme we face now on a nearly daily basis – we are destroying our habitat, we are destroying, to put it in Carl Sagan’s words, “the only home we know.” We are destroying our ability to have a future in which we can still peer through this telescope to peer out into the universe, our capacity to seek, to wonder, to explore – because we will not be able to do those things if we are not here anymore, or if we damage our home so badly that we no longer have instruments like this available to us.

There are about a hundred links I could insert here that tell the story of this destruction, but let’s just do one for now because it is one that really hit hard today because it is about a part of the world I deeply love.

X-ray technology reveals California’s forests are in for a radical transformation

la area forests

This is great sorrow. When I talk to people about the fires out west, they often tell me that, bad as it is, the forests will recover. And I try to say – not from these fires, not from this. Forests are resilient, but they, too, can be made to suffer beyond the point of survival. And with persistent drought and climate change, the stress is becoming too much for these ecosystems, as this research reveals.

We live now in the tension of these extremes – awe that comes with greater knowledge of our universe from the macro to the micro; fear that comes with the realization that we have put our future in jeopardy. The tension cannot hold much longer. We are at a threshold on so many different planes of our existence that it seems more than we can handle. And yet here we are – facing a choice.

This can be paralyzing, but does not need to be. The best way to deal with a conundrum like this is not to sit home frozen in place, or to bury our heads in the sand. The more we do that, the more we get depressed, anxious, and either super-distract ourselves or drug ourselves to numb the edges of the anxiety and fear.

Will Allen & Friends - photo: Growing Power, Inc. "Developing living systems that are economically feasible for all people to have sustainable protein and vegetables year round."

Will Allen & Friends – photo: Growing Power, Inc. “Developing living systems that are
economically feasible for all people to
have sustainable protein and vegetables
year round.”

There is another possibility – to step forward directly into it, to get busy, to take action, to begin right where we are making the new creation that can still transform all of this, that can still move us into another future. We can start, step-by-step, living into the new ways of life that don’t require any longer the depletion of the planet to support them. We can begin to turn to one another instead of our stock portfolios and 401(k)s for support, friendship, community to rely on – which will be more meaningful and more likely to last in any case as the economy faces cycles of collapse, each one deeper than the last.

We can begin, right where we are, to see where in our eco-communities, life is most damaged, threatened, where the interconnections, the threads that hold it together, are most endangered, and move toward those places to help heal them, to work with the Earth for that healing to come about.

Photo by the Mom

Photo by the Mom

We can teach our children to be part of the whole that is comprised of the living communities of sentient and non-sentient beings, teach them what is essential, get them involved in projects where they learn from the beginning to love the web of life that holds them in place, alive and flourishing.

We can begin to resolve the tension between the two extremes by deciding to move toward one and away from the other.

I don’t know, seems to me like a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. What say we give this a serious try?

Margaret Swedish
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