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.

Let's hope that collapse comes before AI reaches a point of complexity at which computers can write their own codes. At that point (and it is coming, they say, sooner than we think), humans are in really big trouble. Here's a race to the future with everything at stake. What will win - the computers or the humans? Given how fast computers are these day, humans have no chance of keeping up.

It's a long, longs ways from the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate this week, a harvest festival that predates the national myth involving the Puritans - those early settlers who learned how to grow food here from indigenous peoples before the genocide began.

 My plot at Alice's Garden, Milwaukee - late October
Do most people in this country have any idea what a "harvest" is anymore, or any direct relationship to it - other than going to a store and buying produce, or eating a turkey raised on antibiotics and growth hormones on some industrial farm?

The meaning of the post headline is this: the great unraveling, depending on how we approach it, view it, live through it, may offer us enormous reasons for gratitude - because we just may learn again (or NEED to learn again) how to live here on this planet, which living systems we are so bent on destroying. The collapses we are facing, hard as they may be to live through, may challenge us in ways that just might reawaken - again, out of necessity - the skills, talents, ingenuity, creativity, and longings for connection and community that this economic world has stolen from us.

When I look at the wreckage that this fossil-fueled capitalist era has left in its wake, I wonder that any caring person is not able to see the benefit of bringing that era to an end.

Of course, we won't bring it to an end. The end will happen of its own logic, and much of the world will be unprepared, as unprepared as for the rising seas that are beginning to drown our coastal communities and island nations.

Well, some of us need to prepare. I can't make Houston change its ways, despite Hurricane Harvey, but I can think about how to work in the communities where I live to help build resilience so that we can not only survive what is coming, but thrive - if not economically, then spiritually, culturally, artistically, psychologically, creatively, recovering and healing our connections with life and one another from before they were all mediated by technology and retail and environmental degradation.

Some critics like to say people like me want to return us to the primitive conditions of the hunter-gatherers. Well, no, actually, we are talking about Evolving, not DEvolving. We're not talking about going back to the caves but rather doing major course corrections, letting go an increasingly destructive way of economic life so that a new one can emerge.

A couple of comparisons to make the point:
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?
World Set for 3.4C by 2100 
Two-Thirds of Americans Say This Is Lowest Point in US History They Can Remember
Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords

That's the world we live in now. I could list pages and pages of articles, research studies, essays, and more that indicate the looming crisis in so many aspects of our lives. So could you. We feel it ganging up on us now. We feel it - which is why we are also so anxious to distract ourselves.

But the other part of the story is this:
Tewa Women United - Environmental Health and Justice Program 
Alice's Garden Presents a Stage for Urban Agriculture
Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming - and Civilization 
And this: Canticle Farm in Oakland CA

Canticle Farm from Molly Leebove on Vimeo.

You get my meaning, yes? While the old economic world is clearly falling apart all around us, new paths for a new world are emerging everywhere. These 4 glimpses are just that - glimpses of how the Great Unraveling is giving way for the Great Turning to emerge.

We need to believe this, friends. We need to believe this with all our hearts. I can't tell you it will be easy. It won't. What's coming, even what is already here (Puerto Rico, for example), will be painful indeed. It will be less painful for the belief. It will be less painful if we can release ourselves from some of that co-dependency that has us so locked in to the world that is falling apart. The more we free ourselves, the easier the transition will be. The more we find community in it, the more we sing and dance, read poetry and write stories, build family as village, become sharing people rather than hoarders, let our security rest on the community rather than on individual life savings and retirement plans - the easier the transition will be.

It is gift and blessing for me that the work I have chosen to do has allowed me to become aware of so many of the new movements emerging from the roots up, how many people around the world - millions of us - are tending the soil in which those roots find their nourishment, their ability to grow and bear fruit.

So, despite all the harsh news of these days, despite all that looks like demise and decay - I give thanks. I give thanks because the planet is resilient and we can be resilient right along and in sync with it. We can heal together, we humans and our Mother Earth. We can take care of one another as the Earth finds a new equilibrium to replace the one our technology and industry has destroyed. We can work together to make it possible for new generations to come onto the planet and find purpose and meaning in what Thomas Berry called, "the Great Work."

What a project for us! What a project for the coming generations!

Yes, this year, as I sit with family and friends for a quiet tender Thanksgiving dinner, I will give thanks for the whole blessed thing - the Unraveling, the Turning, the Great Emergence.

And now I want to end this post on the highest note I can find for this Thanksgiving. Share it with friends and family. Sing your hearts out - with joy!

~ Margaret Swedish


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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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Living within reality v living outside of it - as if this is a choice

That was the thought that popped into my brain after I read this AP story this morning:

US coastal growth continues despite lessons of past storms 

GOES-East image of Maria
Here comes Maria - NASA satellite image

This is denialism in the extreme - and I don't just mean the climate science deniers. I mean all of us who continue to live outside the reality of it, which is most of us in this capitalist consumer world of ours.

Everyone who believes that they can live beyond the biocapacity of the Earth and still have a habitable planet, everyone who resists seeing clearly that those who live outside the margins of what is sustainable in a regenerative sense for the ecosystems of the Earth is in denial.

Monday, September 4, 2017

We need some real moral courage now

Where will it come from?

Let's spend a little time assessing the situation. I know this can often amount to overload, but at some point we have to be willing to receive into our heads and hearts the full scope of the turbulent changes underway in order to appreciate the scope of the changes required of us now, with urgency. After all, we are already feeling them in our bodies and psyches, which react to all sorts of trauma with stress, anxiety, fear, and profound disorientation as our familiar world becomes increasingly unfamiliar.

I will do this by way of a couple of overarching themes that point to the gravity of the moment, the larger picture that we could fill in with any number of other crises - war and threats of war, racism and segregation, retreat into tribalism and religious fundamentalism, and other social realities - like addiction, gun violence, the rise of armed, organized militias - exacerbating that crisis. The list is long, and much of this is symptom, not cause, of our predicament. We are a population operating under extreme stress (as is much of the world), but largely unable to articulate the true causes of that stress. "Blame the other" has become the convenient way of coping in a culture that has never understood well the dynamics of the global economy, the breakdown of ecosystems or how they work, and how religion is often a force of social control rather than insight, wisdom, and liberation.

Friday, August 25, 2017

35 inches of rain - and an eclipse

Having trouble taking that in - 35 inches of rain? I am. Hard to comprehend. Hard to comprehend what it means to major population areas. Add to that high winds and a 12-ft storm surge. Add to that the possibility that barrier islands may be inundated. And then that the rain will go on for days.

I'm watching the Weather Channel this early morning. I know they tend to over-dramatize weather, but they are reading statements from the National Weather Service that are about as dire as anything I've ever heard.

Hurricane Katrina struck land as a category 1 storm. This will hit the Texas coast as a category 3.

A disaster like this does not end when the winds calm and the sun returns. A disaster like this destroys in ways that take years for communities to recover. Some of the outcomes will be permanent. Millions of lives could be upended.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The summer of our discontent, and the coming eclipse

Discontent abounds now in our fragmenting culture. I'm going in to a bit of a quiet mode for a week or two, reassessing what we're doing under the umbrella of this little non-profit. How to focus in the time of "the Great Unraveling" when our non-profit's financial resources are scarce, and when many people are bewildered, anxious, fearful, most of us having no clue about that comes next.

We are in crisis. Some media people are trying to tell us that. This isn't "chicken little" time. The sky really is falling.

Good time for a total eclipse.