Monday, January 29, 2018

State of the Union - greasing the skids for collapse

Hard not to believe that most of what comes from the politics of the day is doing exactly that - greasing the slide for the accelerating pace of our cultural and ecological decline. Sometimes I get a kind of brain freeze trying to fit together alternative realities - like how well the economy is doing, how low unemployment is, how insane the bull market in stocks continues to be (creating lavish amounts of paper or digital-only wealth), how strong we are, how powerful, how bright the future...

...with the record rates of suicide, especially among middle aged men, the national crisis of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, the gun violence (several mass shootings already this year), the open white supremacist and antisemitic rhetoric, the rise in poverty rates, the numbers of low-wage workers supplementing their nutrition at food banks and soup kitchens, and on and on.

We are a nation seriously lying to itself.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Warriors training: learning how to live in 'THIS' world

It's the only one we have. And while we may have wished, and wish every day, for a different one, this is the world within which we live, the one humans have made. Every day we have to live in the only world that exists.

And most every day, as 2017 ended and 2018 began, I have been reflecting on how to do that - because we can't change this one, not at the big scale, not the one where smartphones are in the hands of more than 77% of the U.S. population and will deliver just about anything to your doorstep, with free shipping and lots and lots of paper and plastic packaging, not when millions are planning dozens of plane trips for business and vacation, not when automakers are filling an endless hunger for bigger and bigger personal vehicles, not when all the signs are that the human world is driving the ecological systems of the planet to the brink of unraveling.

La Casa de Maria retreat center - the end of the world as we know it
Not when mudslides in southern California, following torrential downpours on the same mountains and hills that burned in the record-breaking wildfires, have killed at least 20 people and destroyed more homes and other buildings, closed highways and washed bridges away, with scores of people calling into emergency centers in need of rescue - the year's first natural disaster, with many more to come - and still we persist in, believe in, this way of life.

The climate system is unraveling. We are living in the era in which the relatively stable climate that created the conditions for our flourishing as a species is becoming increasingly unpredictable and erratic. We have changed, are changing rapidly, the planetary conditions in which we exist. Despite this, industrial/technological civilization is still expanding, not contracting, spreading its tentacles across the globe. Land is being used up, exhausted, paved over. Fossil fuels are still being extracted at a feverish pace, largely thanks to fracking. Consumerism continues to drive this expansion as more and more millions of humans want access to the wonders of industrial/technological development.

And so we are racing toward the "end times" - not the Biblical version of God's wrath and fury, but the end times for the Holocene. We will have to learn how to live in the Anthropocene, in the emergent era of an Earth now dominated by the impacts of the human species.

This world did not come from nothing. It emerged - it emerged over centuries and millennia and has a momentum that is not yet exhausted. But trying to stop it has certainly exhausted us.

This is not a call to surrender. It is a call to understanding what we are up against (or, better, living in), what is really driving this time in our collective history and why, despite all the inspiring work going on in grassroots communities everywhere, the basic trajectory of this human tsunami has not been altered.

This is what Margaret Wheatley wrote about our predicament in her 2012 book, So Far From Home - Lost and Found in our Brave New World:

As change agents, activists, concerned citizens, caring human beings, we are attempting to change a global culture that has emerged. How many people on the planet are happy with what's going on? Scarcely any. Most of us are appalled by the aggression, materialism, and greed now so commonplace... We speak out against corporate power, the deterioration of democracy, the loss of equity and opportunity, poverty, diseases the annihilation of species and culture.

We do notice what's going on, with sadness and despair. But then we go back to our work, still believing that if we focus on our part, if we fix this and that one at a time, that we will be able to change the way things are. We work harder; we amplify the importance of our cause; we intensify our efforts. We know the world must change - it simply must. We renew our conviction that we will be the ones to change what has emerged.

Well, we can't. The global culture, with all its tragedies and injustices, is an emergent phenomenon. We have to accept this terrifying fact. It came to be from the convergence of many forces and now possesses characteristics that weren't there until it emerged. It has become a world where the values of greed, self-interest, and oppressive power emerged at a global scale and now supersedes all other values. Many of us, most of us, don't want it to be this way. We still aspire to work from values of justice, community, compassion, love. And we need to keep on with this absolutely. But no matter how well we embody these values, no matter how important our work is, we have to hold it differently.

We will not change what has emerged. We are starting over, basing our work on values and practices that are distinctively countercultural, so outside the norm that most people can't understand what we're doing. We need to proceed in our radical work, experimenting with how we can work and live together to evoke human creativity and caring. Only time will tell whether our efforts contribute to a better future. We can't know this, and we can't base our work or find our motivation from expecting to change the world.
Whew! That's hard. That's hard to read, hard to take in. It is also what systems thinkers in particular have been pondering for decades now. And it's also at the heart of what those who have been studying the nature of civilizational collapse have discovered in their research: the stories of these emergent systems do not end in the work to change them, but in their eventual - and inevitable - collapse.

Wheatley is not sanguine or romantic about the nature of this process and how hard it is to accept. Nor does she reach for some New Age or Conscious Evolution sort of spirituality that removes us from this basic drama. "Dark nights," she writes, "are...excellent examples of how chaos works to create more capacity; like all living systems, we first have to fall apart before we can figure out how to reorganize ourselves to fit the new environment. This is the role of despair - it causes us to fall apart." In that dark night of the soul, we let go not only our need to "fix" things, but our belief that we can do so. In that moment of acceptance, on the other side of despair, a surge of  "energy, strength and confidence become[s] available" to us.
"We need to enter into the darkness, because it is the entry point for transformation."
These are powerful words for me, expressing what has driven me to the decision to engage the Wheatley-led training that she calls, Warriors for the Human Spirit. I think I (and many others) have sensed for some time now that we really are in a sort of "end times," as much as that term may make us squirm.
We are approaching a great climax in our history when our industrial prowess and expansion across the planet, our technological genius and ability to ravage the Earth for the resources required for that expansion are crashing into inevitable limits - and not only planetary limits, but also limits of what we can bear - morally, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually - as we witness collectively, by way of all that technology, the scale of destruction of the planet and the cruelty embedded at the heart of the greed and material satisfaction that has driven this economic culture.
From this perspective, the point is not to try to fix it, but to let it go, and in that letting go, we break with its logic, with its energy, and we become available for the next emergence to unfold through us, to be created through us, having no idea what it will look like, what that next world will be.

I confess to having had some resistance at first to the word "warrior," with all it conjures up of soldiers, armies, and battles. But when I take in the breadth of what we are talking about here, and the inner work it will take to unbind ourselves from a certain way of being so that another way of being can emerge - well, warrior suddenly feels about right. The context she uses is that of the Shambhala Warrior, the spiritual warrior, disciplined, compassionate, courageous, generous, and fiercely focused. It gets at what this work requires - a great letting go of centuries of cultural contexts and ways of thinking and certain expectations, of letting go in many cases relationships based in those things, and then the willingness to walk into a great unknown - hopefully in really good company.

Warriors for the Human Spirit, as if that spirit is worth the struggle, worth the commitment, worth the sacrifice.

Take a few minutes and watch this video of Joanna Macy, one of my inspirations over many years, as she pronounces the Shambhala warrior prophecy as it was given to her by her teacher Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche in India:

Video: The Shambhala Warrior Prophecy

It is from this tradition that Wheatley works as well, citing Macy and the Shambhala prophecy in her work. I have written often about the need for us to begin to build the inner and outer resilience we humans will need to live through the times unfolding now in our world. Resilience as a spiritual and ecological practice will require from us a rejection of the economic culture that is destroying the living communities of our planet. This will not be easy.

It will require a deep inner rejection of religions and cultures which institutions have supported that economic culture over centuries, often directly enabling it, often participating in or defending some of its most violent and destructive tendencies. This, too, will not be easy.

It will require a deep inner renunciation of the consumeristic values, the values of self-enrichment, aggressive individualism, and hoarding of the wealth of the planet that have corrupted the hearts and spirits of the human community, especially western humans. This, too, will not be easy.

It will require rejecting the economic, philosophical, theological, and other belief systems that, over many centuries, have proffered a separation between the human and the rest of Nature, belief systems that supported the destructive view that humans are given the power and purpose by God himself [sic] to dominate and subdue the Earth and put its living communities of sentient and non-sentient beings at the service of the aspirations, comfort, acquisitiveness, and supremacy of the human species.

We see where that has led us - to the brink of ecological collapse.

There is no God that has made this so. Whether or not you believe in God, there is no God that has made this so. WE have made it so.

Most of you know that I come from Roman Catholic roots and was my own version of "spiritual warrior" in the work of the Central American solidarity movement from 1981-2004. Have I left that framework behind? Some of it, yes. I am fairly certain that Jesus of Nazareth, if walking the streets of our world today, would weep over the cathedrals and hierarchies and giant churches built in his name, and over an otherworldly spirituality that has contradicted the very essence of his message - which is quite simple, really. Feed the hungry, free the oppressed, give up your wealth and privilege, get down into the nitty gritty of our world with hearts of compassion, and relieve the suffering you find there. Oh, and by the way, the rich, the elites, the empire, the religious authorities, are the problem, not the solution. To make matters even worse for the complacent and the comfortable, Jesus makes clear that it is the poor who are the blessed ones, the true intended inheritors of the earth.

Sounds a lot like a bodhisattva. Or maybe St. Francis. Or maybe Grace Lee Boggs. Or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The point is not the religion, it's the practice. It's how we live in this world, and with what deep inner orientation to reality - reality as it is in this world. That's the point.

So then, this will be an eventful year for yours truly, and for the work done under the umbrella of the Center for New Creation. The point of making this commitment to the training is to develop new skills and insights to offer a world undergoing tremendous transition. If this is not shared with others, there is no point in doing it. The training will begin in March and end in October. I will share the experience along the way.

To help empower this work, your donations can make a real difference. The other work we do - here in Milwaukee on racism and environmental justice, for our blogs and the website, to develop workshops and other programs and presentations - that continues, and our donors make it all possible.

We are living in extraordinary times. Let's put our best talents, creativity, skills, and wisdom in service of the emergent new life that is rising up all around us, even in the midst of the collapse of the old.

~ Margaret Swedish


You can help support our participation in the Warriors for the Human Spirit training program by contributing to the Center for New Creation. Visit our website to read past posts in New Creation News and New Creation Stories. Sign up to receive posts by email and if you like what you read here, please share our site with others. DONATIONS are always welcome.


Friday, December 22, 2017

About that "Light in the Darkness" part

It’s been a rough year, hasn’t it? For me, I guess it really put content into that notion of “The Great Unraveling,” a phrase that has emerged over the past couple of decades from numerous thinkers, writers, journalists, environmental biologists, and climate scientists to describe what is unquestionably the great underlying crisis of our time.

The world we have known for generations is unraveling – quickly. Whether it’s the living ecosystems of the planet, the political system and governing bodies of the United States, the post-Cold War global economic order, cultural and tribal belief systems that go back many centuries - nothing feels stable anymore.

And that’s because - nothing is stable anymore. And that marks a different scale of change than what one fraught election has wrought in this land. Something bigger is going on, something that I have found best described in the literature on the nature and inevitability of civilizational collapse [for example: The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival, by Sir John Glubb. Excellent paper and a free pdf download]. We shouldn’t be shocked by that. Historical and anthropological research has shown that this has happened many times in human history, and that no civilization is exempt.
We just have the added complexity of this one occurring in the context of planetwide ecological collapse as well.

If all that sounds terrifying, that’s because it is.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Coping during the "Great Unraveling"

~ by Margaret Swedish

New wildfires are raging in Southern California, through hills and canyons, burning hundreds of structures in Ventura County and, in Los Angeles, forcing tens of thousands to flee, closing schools, creating chaos and gridlock on freeways and road systems. For the two largest fires, there is only 5% containment, fires continue to spread, and the Santa Ana winds are expected to blow fiercely through Saturday, 50-80 mph. Red flag warnings remain through at least Sunday. 

Temperatures in the L.A. area reached the 90s on Thanksgiving Day. The normal for Nov 23 is 70. The drought and record heat of recent months has dried up all the brush from the record spring rains and floods, creating tinder in densely populated areas.

Meanwhile, I took a late afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee on Monday. The temp was 64, normal is 36. And while temperatures have dropped to more reasonable December readings since then, we saw abnormally warm days in October and November, not to mention the unprecedented 90s+ heat wave in September.

Also on Monday, President Trump (still hard to put those two words together) tried by mere order to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, opening them to the possibility of oil and gas drilling, cattle-grazing, and the rampaging of off-road vehicles, an injury beyond comprehension to Indian nations for whom these are sacred lands, full of artifacts and remnants left from the lives of their ancestors - not to mention the breathtaking beauty of this vast wilderness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Giving thanks during the great unraveling

Is it possible? Is it possible to look at the times in which we live - and give thanks? Can we embrace gratitude even as all we know begins to collapse beneath and around us?

Sure we can - if we correct the lenses through which we see the unraveling.

Like fish in water, or animals breathing air, we move around in what is an all-encompassing "atmosphere" of western culture and economic life, not noticing the essence of our environment or exactly what it is on which we are completely dependent. Look around you right now. What part of your life in this moment, in whatever space of work or home or coffee shop or wherever is NOT connected to a market economy and the increasingly complex technology on which we have all become dependent for the most basic things in life?

What is always stunning for me when I ponder this reality is how quickly that dependence anchored itself in our lives and in our consciousness, how quickly we are losing some basic skills as we give them over to that technology. I have asked people about what would happen if the satellites went down and they lost their GPS - would they know how to get from here to there?
Or I have asked about whether they keep hard copy of their family members' and friends' addresses and phone numbers in case their smartphones go down. Would they know how to find them? And if the satellites go down, and therefore our ability to communicate via WiFi technology, do they have another way to get in touch with people, their loved ones, emergency responders, etc.?

How 'bout that cloud where you store all your documents, photos, music. It isn't really a cloud, you know. It's a server somewhere. What happens when that goes down?

The response I often get in these conversations is a nervous laugh, or a silent "uh oh," as they see the reality sink in.

How about the new robots? How about the robots and artificial intelligence (AI) predicted to replace more than half the human jobs by 2050? And that's not just drudgery or factory work. That's also Uber and truck drivers, and doctors and surgeons, and many Wall Street jobs.

But here is the thing: we are increasingly dependent for our survival and pleasures in life on the very systems of production and economic growth that are causing the unraveling. It's a form of capitalist suicide because what is unraveling is the very basis of the capitalist system. The only reason we don't feel it yet, at least for those of us of the consumer culture, is that we are in that last throe of riding high, the fastest pace of unsustainable growth occurring just before the collapse.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Resilience as a spiritual practice

We see and hear that word a lot these days - resilient communities, psychological and emotional resilience, spiritual resilience, resilience as an essential ingredient of sustainability (don't like the word "sustainability" because we are living so wildly outside it that the word is no longer meaningful).

It comes up for a reason. It recurs because of the stresses and challenges most of us face every day, starting with the moment we get out of bed in the morning. We're going to need a whole lot of it as we move through these turbulent times.

Nature is a community. Photo: M Swedish
Is nature resilient? Yes, to a point, and depending on whether you mean the old version of "nature," or the one we are moving into rapidly, which is not the old version and never will be again. Resilience has a different meaning when we write of the planet because its resilience is one of the reasons it has been able to evolve life through these billions of years, recovering over and over again from tremendous catastrophes. But sometimes that takes shaking off whole species in order for it to adjust, adapt to new circumstances, and then begin again. What will it do with the human species now?

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the morning of the latest mass-shooting...these thoughts

My God, we are a violent culture. And now we are armed to the teeth. We have among us some of the most unstable people able to get their hands on arsenals of military-style weapons, and we have  deluded ourselves into believing that there is some Constitutional right to this, that arming ourselves with lethal weapons constitutes "freedom," or some such thing - unless you're the one getting shot.

We have people among us ready to carry Tiki Torches into bastions of the old Confederacy to sow fear and to stoke still more violence - which, in a nation violent from its birth, is so easily stoked. We have the hate and the trauma left in the wake of racist violence that goes back to the days of the slavers' ships and from the days of genocide when Europeans used pure savagery to remove millions of indigenous peoples from lands the invaders coveted.

But there is even more going on now, beyond the legacy of these old festering wounds. Because of the way humans have ravaged the planet in this quest for power and wealth, we now have a planetary crisis on our hands and it seems fewer and fewer people are missing its cues as the signals of it grow increasingly dangerous, threatening, and permanent.