What Next?

I remember quite clearly the day I learned suddenly of the destruction taking place on 9/11.   I was teaching my preschool class, completely unaware of events, when a mother came in to sign out her child.    “We are under attack,” she said.  “They’re bombing the Pentagon.”  At first, I found it hard to believe what she was saying.   The day seemed perfectly normal to me.  Then, more parents came in to take their children home, and the director of the school confirmed the reports from what she had heard on the radio.      To say that the information was a shock is an understatement.  Who could be attacking America, and further, doing it successfully?  Neither I nor anyone else knew what would come next.

Something was lost that day – even more than the vast loss of life that caused immense suffering to so many people.  America lost her feeling of innocence, of being invulnerable to being hurt.  We were now as able as anyone else to undergo trauma.  We were no longer “on top”, unassailable, deferred to.   The loss angered most people.   It also changed our society forever.  The effects of those changes are now a part of our lives.

A score of years later, we are currently amidst another crisis, one of a different nature, but equal intensity.   From this crisis, too, many lives are being lost, and the nature of our nation is again changing.  The media are full of fear messages and instructions about how to cope.  People are asked to distance themselves physically from each other (especially no gatherings), and are, for the most part, cooperating with that.  Those of us who are not technologically savvy are either being left out or undergoing a steep learning curve.   Elders are being left to die alone, without loved ones in attendance.  People are losing jobs and income, and real solutions to that still have to emerge.  Other serious issues, such as climate change and elections, are on the back burner.  The increase in national debt to finance the very basic promised government help will create added stress on an already globally weakened dollar.  Everything seems to be falling apart, and no one seems to be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

All of which leave me wondering.  To what advantage to whom if anyone is an absence of people gathering together and of most interactions being done online?  Perhaps someone knows that answer.  What will happen to the poor and the disadvantaged?   How will our economy and business activity evolve, assuming they recover?  What will be the changes to our governing structure?  

The silver lining is that if we are aware and active, we have the chance to shape from chaos the organization that will emerge.  We have choices.  Certainly, we can sit back and wait, counting on others to take care of us and make our lives something we are happy to be experiencing.  We can also sit back and wait on the flip side of that, assuming that nothing needs be done because what is happening is needed; the loss of population and the collapse of institutions are good signs and whatever happens need not concern us now.  We can also start to envision what we would like to emerge, and to comprehend the steps we would need to take to get from here to there.  The one thing we cannot do, unless we wish to engage in a fairy tale, is to presume that after a few months everything will resume as it had been, and nothing much will change.

Perhaps we will continue to live as a people mostly living and working online.  That would be a change appreciated by some, while others will grieve the loss of being able to shop in a store instead of shopping online.  Perhaps the weak response of the Federal government, which has led to piecemeal approaches by each state as states attempt to take control of coronavirus action within their boundaries, will result in a confederation of states, rather than a central government – much as the structure of the UN.  Perhaps the rebound from social isolation will be that people meet and talk in person more than we did before.   Perhaps a heyday of machine mediated living will emerge, and we will be welcomed by self-driving cars, robot companions and helpers, and enhanced AI – we would need to do little or nothing.  Perhaps new ways of doing business and meeting our needs will emerge as the dollar continues to weaken to the point of collapse (there have already been predictions of that, before the coronavirus).   We do not exactly know what will emerge, but whatever emerges will be what we wish and design, or what someone else wishes and designs, according to the extent of our involvement or inactivity.

I have received over my email several theories and predictions about the economy and about what we should do as a result.  One group is convinced that the currency of the future will be digital, and that the wise thing to do is to learn about and invest in currencies such as Bitcoin.  Other people are more traditional; their take is that he or she who has the most gold will control the future, and that gold will again be the medium of exchange, at least until a seriously gold-backed new currency can evolve.  Not many are of my leaning, that what is most valuable is arable land and as many cooperating people as needed to tend it sustainably.  Food and shelter are basic needs.   One cannot eat gold, or Bitcoin either, for that matter.    (I am ignoring the theory of chaos populated by armed bandits that pits us against each other, individually and in groups.)  If I can, I will acquire such land, individually or in a group, however I can.    That is a large goal.   A smaller aim, one which most of us can do, is to learn how to garden, to grow our own food, and to learn the use of herbal medicines.  Some are also able to learn to lead in organizing our neighborhoods into cooperating groups.  It used to be that way – my mother told tales of growing up in such a neighborhood.  What we have forgotten, we can remember, and bring forth anew in a shape to fit our times.

It is admirable that people are responding positively to the current enforced distancing by singing from balconies, smiling and greeting each other from a distance, posting pictures in windows, and checking digitally more often on friends and family.    It is good to continually hear from the media (among more dire predictions) that we will all come through this.  These are blessings to be absorbed now, comforts that enable us to handle the sudden changes and the contra-intuitive way of being, apart from each other.  They are superb in the short term, but not enough to carry us through the long term.  We also need to  begin now to ponder the changes, the questions the changes engender, the direction in which current patterns are leading us (for example, I hear little about ameliorating climate change, which is also upon us), the directions in which we would like to go to achieve goals which we want, and the steps we need to take to get there.  We need to start talking about those things.  We need to be aware, and to take responsibility for creating that which emerges from this chaos.  We can no longer afford to be a nation of children, looking to others to solve the problems and take care of us.  In that way, we lose our power and our humanity.

Amid all that swirls around us, let us take the time and devote the energy to thinking about the questions which have arisen and to discuss them with others – both those who agree and who disagree.   Let us envision a future we want and ponder how to make the transition from here, now and in the near future, to that desired outcome.  Let us take the responsibility to create our systems, our futures, our lives.    It is certainly possible to do that.

Peace, Diane

We Really Do Matter

” I have marched, petitioned, written letters to the editor, made phone calls and donated, but despite all I can do, nothing seems to have changed.   I feel I cannot make a difference.”  The words refer to the current crisis of climate change, uttered during a conversation about that topic.  The words are poignant, but the speaker is not the only one who feels that way.  At some time or another, each of us experiences frustration at not being able to inspire the changes we want to see, and many also experience a strong desire to give up and stop working.  Paradoxically, while we experience that desire, we also know that actually doing that will not bring lasting happiness.

I, too, experience such discouragement.  At times, it seems that no matter what words I use, they will simply echo back from the void of inertia, slip into the antithesis of what I am trying to challenge, and perish unread and unconsidered.  At such times, it is hard to continue.  Yet, giving up would simply create more hopelessness, and negate the essence of who I am, re-incorporating it into a standard status-quo.  No wealth or luxury (or the “righteousness” of its opposite) can soothe the injection of pain resulting from giving up.

I would that it were easier for us to continue.  I would that we were not surrounded by the integrated tangle we have made for ourselves by assuming that we can create better than the wisdom of nature, or the tenets of Wisdom.  However, wishing does not make it so.  We are indeed all linked, whether in chaos or creation, or both at the same time.  This connection, while it may seem at times to present an insurmountable obstacle, is in fact an innate strength upon which we all may draw as we continue living and doing our parts to nurture each other and our planet.  Understanding this can lift us up; acting on the understanding can help us perceive often imperceptibly slow forward movement.

We need community; we need others with whom to work, strive and share.  We need those whose efforts commingle with ours to heal ourselves and our planet.  We need to act on the knowledge that we are all linked, and that each of us does make a difference to the nature and quality of the whole.  Our connection is creative – even if we are joined in creating destruction – and allowing ourselves to be separated each from the other, perceiving the separation rather than the link, inhibits our creative manifestation.   Many ways exist to connect.  Some are those of technology (not the same as physical proximity, but yes, a kind of connection), discussion groups, action/service groups, economic cooperatives, extended family, neighborhoods and co-housing, monastic groups, intentional communities, to name a few.  These groups, each in its own way, support their members (and sometimes others, too) and devote their pooled energy into influencing the creation of the as-yet-unformed that is to come.

Another obstacle many of us experience is the perceived lack of time.  Often our experience is that when all the work done to support ourselves is finished, there remains the maintenance work at home to sustain us, and some time spent to connect with family and friends.  That done, perhaps we can eke out a little time to read, exercise or learn and grow in one way or another.   When all that is accomplished, there remains little time to sleep, even if we have been operating with the stress of full speed ahead.  Community is helpful in this way as well.  Work shared (remunerative or for maintenance) means less time each individual needs to spend on tasks.  Shared effort means support for each other.  Shared knowledge means learning and growing in the course of being.  Time saved means less time spent rushing and more time available for sleep and healing, and more time in which to pursue those efforts about which one is passionate.

“It is all so complex,” one might protest.  “We are becoming more fully aware of the consequences of climate change, yet it seems that averting the full effects of climate change cannot be addressed without also engaging the issues with which it is linked.”  It is as if the totality of mistakes made in human society are the drivers of the changes on the planet as a whole.  Yes, fossil fuels are certainly a large part.  But what about people trapped residing in marginalized areas or substandard housing, an agricultural system seemingly bent on destroying the life of the soil as it goes about chemically killing everything it cannot sell, factory farms selling meat from abused animals while polluting ecosystems, a political and economic system structured to exclude or minimize minorities, escalating wars, and technology fever, which separates us from the earth and gives us the illusion that it will protect us from change?  These are a few of today’s issues; they are related to climate change.  Cause for hopelessness?   Not when we realize that each little bit helps; when enough drops have fallen into the bucket, the bucket will overflow.

Let us hold on to hope, learn to feel the interconnectedness of all things, gather into community, and be aware that we do, indeed, matter.  Anything, small or large, that we do counts.  Let us “hold the vision and keep the faith” and continue to contribute from the time we manage to devote and the talents we have been given.  In this way, we continue to grow, helping the earth and others in the process.

Peace, Diane

Little Drops of Water; Little Bits of Sound

As we approach the end of 2019 and the cumulation of the holiday season, I find myself at times falling into a pensive state amidst the bustle of to-dos.  I have been recalling a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, in which the singing of the lion Aslan results in the formation of the country of Narnia.  Another, different memory flows from that passage.  The sixties and early seventies were times of rapid and needed changes, among them civil rights, anti-war and the environment.  What kept those changes moving was the nonstop messaging of the music of that era.  Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary were among the creative musical souls who with their music, often generated from our heritage of folk songs, kept the constant musical drumbeat that propelled the sixties forward.  Sound has power, be it the sound of music or the sound of prosaic voice.

Our own age has as many – perhaps more – issues as the sixties.  Some are similar, such as continued civil rights.  We have peace movements and the exemplary seeds of communities, some of which survived the sixties and matured.  We have political turmoil and economic inequality, healthcare and education among our issues.  What is new about our era is the rapidity with which public attention fluctuates from one issue to another in kaleidoscopic fashion, resulting in continued stress and few solutions.  The political system seems to be teetering, hampered by infighting, talking heads, and inactivity.  We go, for example, from focus on Greta Thunberg and climate change to political debate between electoral candidates to the impeachment of the president, as if an invisible hand were turning a giant kaleidoscope.

Also new in our area is an overarching issue, to which all others are related.  We are faced with the imminent and ominous advent of climate change.  Without our planet, the rest does not matter.  Without viable solutions to the subsidiary issues, healing the planet and adapting to what is currently inevitable is a herculean task.  Sadly, we are focused on the tributary tasks feeding the current of climate change and comparatively neglectful of the overarching issue.

The obstacle is that the issue of climate change and the needed changes (no, technology will not solve everything for us while we continue the present path) is a highly uncomfortable issue for most people; the changes needed are massive.  We cannot persist in an extraction-based economy, an assumption that it is permissible to kill for our advancement or convenience, in economic and social inequity, in a lifestyle of throwaway consumption and a detachment from the earth and the plants and animals that live upon it.  This is the crossroads. 

Change is usually not comfortable.  It is easier to focus on the other issues contingent to this central one, and to hide our heads in the sand, so to speak, as we mostly ignore the imminent and ominous approach of the results of our actions upon the earth.   Because we cease to speak of it, it is easier to not think of it and not make any of those uncomfortable changes.   We like to assume that someone else will fix the problem, or that it will fix itself.  Then we can feel that we are not responsible.  The truth is that no one else will fix the problem for us.   We are responsible for the results we want.  

Many years ago, the Earth/Nature went through another period of global warming – possibly fueled by volcanic eruption. Over the eons, the Earth in her wisdom healed herself by capturing those elements that contributed to the warming and sequestering them underground in the form of oil, coal and natural gas.  Frozen methane was also sequestered in the permafrost of the polar regions as the earth cooled.  There was extinction during those times, too.  Eventually, people evolved – supposedly the most intelligent of all creatures.  We, the intelligent creatures, learned how to put back into the atmosphere all that Nature had hidden underground, and we proceeded to do that as fast as we could.  We thus began to bring back the times of warming and extinction.  Are we intelligent enough now to correct our actions and stop the release of the pollution which spoils the Earth and warms it, and causes extinction of species, including ourselves?  Are we intelligent enough to change, and restore at least some of what we have taken?  It is past time to start that process.

We need again the power of sound to reorient ourselves to the need of the present moment.  We need it to energize our awareness that no matter what else we may be working on, that project is subsidiary (important as a contribution) to the elephant in the room, climate change.  To mitigate or tack across the effects of the climate change we have wittingly or unwittingly created will take the efforts and contributions of each of us.  No one of us can do the job alone.  Technology will not excuse or save us from our responsibility.

Admittedly, we cannot all march in the streets, pay to fund activists, research and educate people, form communities, garden on our rooftops, install solar panels or paint our roofs white.  Some of us (and our neighborhoods) even have difficulty in recycling, despite expanding landfills and the omnipresent plastic waste on land, in the air, and at sea.   There is, however, one thing that everyone can do. Everyone can keep the reality of climate change from being forgotten, deleted from the conversation by the short attention span of public interest.

We need sound.  Musicians, if you are up to the challenge, focus your creativity here.   It is not necessary, though, to be a musician to contribute.  Whoever you are, whatever else you do, you can help to create a tsunami of lasting attention to what needs addressing.  Each of us can each day mention climate change to just one different person and ask that person to do the same.  We can connect in person, by email or social media, by letter to the editor, on the bus, at work, via chance encounter – the ways to choose are many.  There is no need to argue – just mention, each day, consistently.  The rest will follow, in ourselves and in our world.

I commit to doing this.  I invite all to join me.  Together we may be strong enough to heal our planetary home.

Peace, Diane