HOW do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? What do we make of the loss of glaciers, the melting Arctic, widening deserts, the many cyclones and drying farmlands? “Because of social taboos, despair at the state of our world and fear for our future are rarely acknowledged,” writes Joanna Macy in YES! Magazine. The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurring response, contributes to the numbing of the psyche. “Expressions of anguish or outrage are muted, deadened as if a nerve had been cut. This refusal to feel impoverishes our emotional and sensory life. Flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic.”
Of all the dangers we face, none is so great as this deadening of our response. “For psychic numbing impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more crucial uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.”
Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked, “What do we most need to do to save our world?” He answered: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”
Acknowledging our own despair implies telling the truth about what we see, know and feel about our beloved world. “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.” It enlivens and refreshes us. Sharing what is in the deepest part of our heart brings a welcome shift. We realise that “our concerns are far larger than our own private needs and wants. Pain for the world—the outrage and the sorrow—breaks us open to a larger sense of who we are. It is a doorway to the realization of our mutual belonging in the web of life.”
We are not alone! We are part of a vast, global movement: the epochal transition from empire to Earth community. This is the “Great Turning.” And the excitement, the alarm, even the overwhelm we feel, are all part of our waking up to this collective adventure. As in any true adventure, there is risk and uncertainty. Our corporate economy is destroying both itself and the natural world. Its effect on living systems is what writer David Korten calls the “Great Unraveling.” It is happening at the same time as the “Great Turning,” and we are not story which story will unfold.
“In primal societies, adolescents go through rites of passage, where confronting their own mortality is a gateway to maturity. In analogous ways, climate change calls us to recognise our own mortality as a species,” emphasizes Macy. “With the gift of uncertainty, we can grow up and accept the rights and responsibility of planetary adulthood. Then we know fully that we belong, inextricably, to the web of life, and we can serve it, and let its strength flow through us.”
Uncertainty, when accepted, enables our power of intention. Intention is what we can count on: not the outcome, but the motivation we possess, the vision we hold and the life we lead. Our intention and resolve can save us! When we stop distracting ourselves by trying to figure the chances of success or failure, our minds and hearts are liberated into the present moment. Thus we become alive, charged with possibilities, as we realize how lucky we are to be alive now, to take part in this planetary adventure.
(The writer is professor of science and religion and author of Ever Approachable, Never Attainable!)