So I want to start with the eruption of Kilauea in Hawaii. It's not often a writer gets offered a perfect metaphor at exactly the opportune moment. Here's what the volcano did on Thursday, May 17.
Is this destruction - or creation?
The Earth is in a constant state of creating itself. It's geological history is full of enormous events, many of them far larger than this one. We live on a molten planet. We live on a planet of tectonic plates, still moving around, bumping into one another, floating across the globe. Land that is here now wasn't here hundreds of millions of years ago. And land that is here now won't be here in another hundreds of millions of years. It will have floated somewhere else.
As for humans, we are of this planet, one of its creations, subject to these same realities. Civilizations come and go. There is no such thing as permanence, stagnancy, holding in place. If there were, death would soon follow. It is only our short life span on the planet - 80 years on average - that fools us into believing that anything we create will last forever, or that the planet itself is a stable environment.
As Kilauea is proving to us these days. (Or climate change.)
The volcano is destroying a good swath of what humans created on "the big island." It is also continuing to create "the big island." Like earthquakes, these eruptions are evidence of a volatile, explosive planet. That power is terrifying, magnificent, awe-inspiring. And we need remind ourselves that, even in these moments of destruction, that power is also what makes life possible.
|The tsunami had no mercy on the Sumatran village of Aceh*|
Every now and then, we need to be reminded. Our age of industrial expansion and technological know-how, our civilization built with steel and cement, which our intelligence figured out how to make from the Earth's resources, and our capacity for harnessing the forces of energy into war machines, bombs that could destroy human civilizations forever, also the Hubble Space Telescope and Mars Explorer, airplanes and highways, air-conditioners and furnaces, have distorted our view of the "place" of humans. We have come to believe that we have power over the planet, that our greatness lies in our mastery of nature, of overcoming the "limits" of evolution. There are even movements of people who believe humans are not only the epitome of evolution, but can now consciously determine how it will proceed - for the entire universe, no less!
Such grandiosity based on this tiny moment in the vast expanse of space and time! In terms of cosmological evolution, as we know, our human time in that history amounts to a few hundred thousand years on this one small planet within a cosmos that is already 13.8 billion years old - and the planet 4.5 billion years. Our vantage point is pretty teeny if that is the reference we use to measure our significance. And there is at least as much future for that history as there is past, that future including the disappearance of our solar system altogether. Even colonizing Mars won't save us from that!
What seems pretty clear to me at this point - because the evidence is in - is that, unless we relinquish this grandiosity, this belief in our own genius to control planetary outcomes, unless we learn again how to live on and with this planet, we are headed at an accelerating speed toward our own doom. I don't know what that doom looks like - no one can really predict or describe it exactly - but I do know that it's not something I wish to experience.
So, the volcano as metaphor: human civilizations, human economies, human societies, human cultures, are all subject to the same "laws of nature" and physics, subject to the same forces that created this planet over millions of years - a process that did not stop just because humans showed up. As the volcano is showing us, that process continues - inexorably. It will destroy everything it has made and create everything that has been and will be made until the solar system blows to pieces billions of years from now.
How's that for a grand vista from which to look at our current predicament! While we want to "fix" the chaos of our time and hold off the collapses that have begun, from this vantage point we see both the inevitability of this enormous transition underway and our need to work with it, rather than resist or deny it. We see the futility of thinking we can prevent the upheavals, or control them enough to preserve the lives we desire, the lives we have, or insist upon having.
Right. And maybe they can find a way to stuff all that now-hardened lava back into the volcano and stop it from erupting again - and again - and then again.
For people who live in its vicinity, the Kilauea eruption is not only a huge geological event, it is also a profoundly local, personal event. Reactions differ - from shock and trauma to acceptance and awe. Many offerings and prayers are being made to Pele, the Fire Goddess, who some native Hawaiians will tell you is the One who is really in charge. This is her power at work.
|At the beginning of time...**|
When I first pondered this Part III essay I was going to start in a completely different place. I intended to write about how living through the Great Unraveling underway right now, the falling part, or as Joanna Macy has referred to it, the "Great Disintegration," does not mean that we ourselves need to unravel. But we do have to make some big decisions about how we are going to live through it, and how not unraveling has a lot to do with extracting ourselves as much as possible from what is unraveling. But then Kilauea happened and my reflections went off in this direction and I wanted to share those with you, see what you think. We welcome thoughtful comments and responses.
Which means there will be a Part IV to this "Chaos and Collapse" theme, because the question of how to live through the unraveling without ourselves unraveling remains fiercely relevant and even urgent, especially as our own socio-political culture continues its own rapid unraveling. As a society, we are becoming less and less capable of a deliberate, compassionate, intentional adaptation to the energies of collapse. We may not survive as "United" States. But what will survive will be what we create out of the chaos. Our best chance at making that a meaningful future will be if we can muster the wisdom and strength needed to create communities - deliberately, compassionately, and intentionally - right where we are, in emergent life springing up from the roots of the disaster, and having learned from it.
Life returned to the land around Mt. St. Helens after the 1980 eruption that killed everything within dozens of miles of the explosion. It's a new and evolving landscape where one can witness firsthand the regeneration of life out of the devastation. The same will continue on the big island over centuries and millennia to come. Who knows what it will look like a thousand years from now. Clearly, humans are not in charge of this one. Pele is.
~ Margaret Swedish
PS: If you have the chance, visit Mt. St. Helens and see for yourself. I've been there 3 times over the decades, and the return of life from the devastation I first witnessed in 1982 is just breathtaking. See for yourself how the Earth creates life all over again out of death and destruction.
|CENTER FOR NEW CREATION|