Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Paying attention to the shift...

What shift? Well, there's the shift we see on the surface of things - the tumultuous politics of our time; the existential threats to our democratic form of governance; the corruption of our political system now so deeply rooted in it, so intertwined at every level of it, that it's hard to see what could free it at this point; the national fragmentation; the imploding of the global economic system; the threats of more and more international conflict; melting polar ice sheets...

All that, yes, and more, requires a stepping back, some serious reflection, on what we think is really going on, and why now, and how come so fast. Otherwise we may find ourselves feeding the systems that have created the crises, that have brought us to this point of tremendous upheaval, where our nation's politics is in shambles.

But for the purpose of this essay, I'm thinking more here about the shift on the "inside" of things, the more profound shift about which all those surface energies are like waves of an ocean that signal some serious turbulence at the depths. What's going on underneath?

To make the work I do under the umbrella of the Center for New Creation relevant to that deeper shift, to sharpen perception and understanding of what is really changing, and what the nature of that change is - this requires serious ongoing searching, and conversations with others asking the same questions, that process we like to call, reading the signs of the times. Like many or most of you, I have been riveted by the unfolding of Trumpism and how quickly it is breaking all the furniture within our political system. But I know this is not the big thing going on, merely a turbulence caused by the big thing, or things.

What things? Here's my own take:
1) the end of the age of industrial growth capitalism, whether most capitalists and consumers realize it or not and persist in its destructive behaviors; 

2) the end of the Age of Enlightenment (take what was good in it, and leave the rest - a lot of it - behind, including a merely scientific, mechanistic, utilitarian [mis]understanding of life); 
Forest plundered for tar sands oil*
3) the rise of the Anthropocene, the disruption of all the Earth's ecosystems by this voracious predator species;

4) the Earth's responses to the spreading of human industrial economies over the past centuries, including climate chaos and increasing incidents and intensity of "natural" disasters;
5) the collapse of white imperial Anglo-European supremacy and the great comeuppance for old empires built on domination that included colonization, genocide, and slavery; 

6) the rising up of those colonized, who suffered enslavement and genocide, now among our most important social change agents, new creators culturally, spiritually, ecologically, building movements that are emergent all over the planet;
7) last, but hardly least, the "new cosmology," our new understanding of our small place on this tiny planet in the vast expanse of an expanding universe, and the dislocation, disorientation, and collapse of old belief systems under the weight of that knowledge.
I'm sure we could all add to the list, but these stand out for me. What they represent is the really big thing going on - the unraveling of one world that's been around for centuries or more and the emergence of what comes next.

Anyone who thinks that a shift of this magnitude is going to be easy or simply wonderful hasn't been following the planet's or this species' history. Change of this magnitude comes with turbulence, chaos, violence, a lot of inner and outer dislocation, tremendous fear as uncertainty enters our daily lives and survival instincts kick in.

is one of the most powerful forces of our human nature, even more so after centuries of philosophical and religious individualism, and economic aspirations built on the capitalist dream of unending wealth and material security. We formed identities from or within that dream. Our religions separated our personal lives from the greater drama of our economic and planetary lives, and we see the result. Clinging still to the notion of personal salvation (religious, nationalistic, racial, lifestyle, career identities, life achievements, degrees, retirement portfolios, etc.), we fear the letting go that would reflect the big thing going on - which is that these things are collapsing with or without our consent because they do not reflect reality very well, if they ever did. Life simply does not work that way and we are reaching a quite logical, inevitable conclusion. The striving for the interests of the self separate from "the rest" is a contradiction, and a violent one, of the inter-relatedness of everything that is.

The old compass isn't working anymore. We can't find true north. We can't get a sense of direction. The ways we are used to getting our bearings are breaking down. Many of us know now that what is, in terms of systems and the way we see ourselves on the planet, is not only not working, but is in fact destroying us, and, except for some wonderful communities here and there, we see no emerging collective vision that can keep that from happening.

Too many people, I believe, are still looking for change within the political systems created to serve this dying era, searching for change within the structures that are familiar to us (the 2-party system, the stock market, job creation via economic growth, familiar religious and educational institutions, left-right political alignments, etc.) to try to get those structures to be responsive to the growing crises, to get their act together and save us somehow. We see Trumpism as exceptional threat that needs addressing, rather than reflection of the unraveling, a product of exactly those structures that we've relied on for too long. They are institutions of the very historical, philosophical, economic era that is unraveling. Clinging to them will not help us.
What is bringing about the shift, and why the speed of it is accelerating, is that we have come to the end of an era because it is not sustainable any longer. We outgrew the western economic paradigm by a long shot, living wildly beyond the biocapacity of Mother Earth. And we continue to do so at greater and greater speed, as if we are bent on proving that these limits can be defied by our sheer refusal of them. In that seemingly desperate attempt, we hasten the unraveling of the Web of Life as we continue to tear out the threads that are holding it together.
This is how I understand the big "shift" underway. It comes whether we choose it or not. What we do get to choose is how we will respond to it, and what direction it will take. We get to decide whether we will participate in the accelerating process of ecological destruction, or in the work of new creation, the work of supporting the emergent new ways of life that can provide the resilience, meaning, sense of purpose, the community of life that can move us through the chaos time to a new era in which humans learn how to live once more within the life-abundant limits of this beautiful planet of ours.

I can't give you the one script for those news ways of life because they are and will be diverse, depending on where we are, what history is lodged in the local community, and what we have available to partner with wherever we are - the terrain, the soil, the climate, the cultures, and more. But some general principles will guide the creation of these news ways of life. Among them: 
1) taking no more from our bioregions than we need, and certainly no more than the bioregion itself requires to maintain health, vibrancy, and abundance for all the sentient and non-sentient beings that reside there (for example, we have to cease human development in vital ecological areas, such as farmland needed for food, vulnerable forests and shores, deserts without self-sustaining water supplies for the local eco-community, etc); 

2) deep respect for all other forms of life that surround us, none of which should be sacrificed for our pleasures or convenience; 

3) a deep and abiding commitment to social and economic justice because the gross inequities built into our economic systems are not sustainable, nor is it possible to build sustainable economies on foundations of social and economic injustice; 

4) an opening to multiculturalism so that we can learn from the cultures, values, and wisdom of others, because no one belief system or culture holds all the truth. We must be as diverse within the human community as Nature itself is because that's what makes life resilient. There is no room for racism, ethnic hatred, segregation, or other forms of intolerance within the new communities of emergent new creation; 

5) we must shift quickly from a culture that measures success by lifestyles, acquisition, and mobility, to cultures that honor roots, community-building, and care for one another;

6) we must re-think the whole capitalist notion of "work." Think of all the things that capitalism does not honor - raising children, working in community gardens or urban farms to raise food for one's household, a whole lot of community cultural work, artists, poets, singer-songwriters, and more - yet this is work that is necessary for a healthy community. It is also work that gives people joy, and leaves minimal ecological footprints. In fact, they are ways of connecting more deeply with our local bioregions, are incalculable contributions to our communities, and ought to be supported with sustainable incomes;

7) we must honor grievances and historical wounds, as well as the grievous wounds to the Earth where we live, by way of truth-telling and searing honesty, in the mode of "truth and reconciliation" commissions in former conflict areas, and hold rituals for the asking of forgiveness, for forgiveness itself, for reparations that restore the scales of justice, for the healing of broken places, and for restoration of the community, including the eco-community;

8) an "open space for democracy," real democracy this time, with open discussion from the bottom up and leaders who are truly representative of and accountable to the community.
Again, we could add more, but it's a start and a way to get some serious community dialogue going around the work of new creation. But we have to start moving passed dialogue and community conversations and to the work itself. Actually, it is in the shared work of new creation that that dialogue will deepen, the trust within the community will begin to take root, and a sense of empowerment as we realize we really can do this!

Of course, some of this work is political and therefore difficult and draining. But I like to think of it as not so much going up against the powers-that-be, against all the resources they can muster against us, and instead doing all we can to kick the foundations out from under those powers. This is a long struggle, but we are already seeing the changes that are underway. The refusal of environmental destruction is happening everywhere, in acts of resistance and effective local organizing. In the process, communities of friends and neighbors are growing out of these same movements and it begins to be more than protest, creating cultures of poets, artists, musicians, children, extended families, and inclusiveness and diversity that was missing from most of the movements of the past. And in the meantime, a lot of people are also having fun!

I keep harping on this theme in my writing, my workshops, and other presentations: while this all sounds hard and often scary, embracing this shift, making this turn, will fill our lives with meaning, perhaps more than we have ever known. And if we do it in community, it takes away a lot of the fear of leaving an old life behind to begin a new one. So, that's also on each one of us - helping to create the safe space for the great letting-go, to embrace what is unraveling, to embrace the shift, as one of the most exhilarating moments in the entirety of the human journey.

~ Margaret Swedish 

Photos: Margaret Swedish 

* photo from Alberta tar sands industrial site

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