Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"the ending of the old and the beginning of the new"

The reality of the present moment contains both of these aspects: the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. What's challenging is that the beginning of the new is not that loud, it's not that manifest, it's not as tangible as what we already know. So what is required of us is a deeper quality of listening, of paying attention to the more subtle aspects of our experience, and of connecting with the sources of stillness. This is an experience that must happen not only on the individual level, but also on the collective level.

~ Dr. C. Otto Scharmer, from an interview with Annmarie Sanders, IHM, communications director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religous (LCWR)*

Crumbling of the old...
Shhhh, can you hear it? The big sound, the enormous noise, is that of the old world ending, the old paradigm of western culture going back a few centuries. It's the sound of a collapsing industrial society, its structures so frayed and stressed now that they can no longer hold it up.

But that's not the sound I mean here. That's the noise we need to silence in order to hear the other sound that is emerging - the sound of the beginning of the new.

It's not as if it is soft and out of hearing range. It's that it is still being overwhelmed by the noise of the culture, the noise exacerbated by an economic culture that cannot cope yet with the scale of the transition underway and therefore keeps turning up the volume louder and louder, more and more distractions, speed, frenetic activity, consumer addictions, and overwork in a desperate effort to hang on to what is familiar, to a world in which we still define our aspirations and life expectations - and our belief systems - within the paradigm that is in a state of collapse.

In her new (and very important) book, Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Margaret Wheatley writes:
"...the idea of progress is a very recent addition to human thought... It gained ground in the West because of the advent of spectacular machines and great advances in science. It was also supported by Christianity's orientation to an end to time, a misperception of the theory of evolution that confused evolution with progress. But every other culture has the perspective of cycles throughout time and history. There are good times then bad times. There was a Golden Age and now there is the Dark Ages. Humans cannot alter the seasons - or rush past them with optimistic thinking and hard work."
Oh, but we keep trying. We really think there is a way past the accumulating crises, the gathering storms of our times.
"Surrounded by technology that dazzles us with its capabilities and tech optimists who confidently promise more and more wonders [i.e., the noise I refer to above], we have come to believe that even if other civilizations failed, ours will not. It cannot because we are so talented and creative and concerned."
There is a deeply embedded belief system here that describes a fundamental aspect of the paradigm I am addressing in this post, the one that has shaped us for a mere few generations, shaped how our psyches work, our expectations, our meaning frameworks. Like the air we breathe, we barely give it regard because it feels so natural or innate to us. Our western (linear) religions, our cultural institutions, our education systems, our politics, our philosophical systems, our media (including social media), even psychology and the therapeutic culture, all support this super-structure of our lives. Our careers and professions exist within them. Our lifestyle aspirations exist within and are fed by them. What is considered psychological health has to do with how well we fit and function within this paradigm.

And just like the air we breathe, we hardly notice it until one day we realize this environment has become toxic, that what we are breathing is making us sick, even killing millions and millions of us every year.

The smoke is from Alberta. The location is Milwaukee
Of course, this is more than metaphor, because that western way of shaping and finding meaning in the world is also a fundamental aspect of what has brought the air we breathe to our attention - it is what is toxifying the air right along with human meaning and aspirations.

It is important to note that this all happened within the span of just a few generations. It is mind-boggling for me to grasp how quickly the human brain adapted to this way of life, even to the point where the threat it has become appears impossible for us to SEE, to experience, to feel in our bodies.

And that is exactly how loud the noise has become. We cannot hear the state of the planet, we cannot feel it, because most western humans have cut themselves off from that capacity. And that means big trouble for us.

I don't mean that we can't feel the heat waves or record rains, or worry about the president pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. What I mean is that we seem to have lost the capacity, as the biological animals that we are, to appreciate the grave threat to our habitats that our western economic model, now imposed upon the world, has become for our survival. We cling to a belief that we can reverse the heat waves, the threats of coastal flooding to our cities, the sixth great extinction, and climate change itself without reversing the drivers that are bringing these things about - which is how we live and consume every god-blessed day of our lives supported by the extraction-production-waste-consumption economic model that has altered every inch of the planet, disrupting the atmospheric balance and the ecosystems of the biosphere in which life dwells.

Change, my friends, will not come from the systems that support a failing paradigm. It will not come from institutions built on those foundations and dependent upon them. It will come from those communities able to wrest themselves as much as possible from those systems and begin the work of re-creating from below the vocation and genius of the human being. It will come from those who can silence the noise, do some deep listening to what is collapsing, and then to what is emergent from within the collapse that has the potential to create the new ways of life that the Earth is trying to show us, reveal to us, even in her own state of crisis.

Instead of wresting from the Earth what we need to support this linear western economic way of life (because, despite our linear thinking, we have reached the limits of the planet to do that), we have to start partnering with the Earth, working with her, paying attention to her dynamics and energies, to learn from her what we will need to get through the necessary paradigm collapse. We need to learn not only how to survive it, but we also need to relearn how to live here in a way that protects as much as possible the integrity of the Earth's living communities as she heals and regenerates life - life that will be different and unique given new conditions on the planet.

Credit: Alice's Garden, Milwaukee

Our human vocation now is nothing of less importance or significance than this. The human species made this mess. Who else do we think will come around to save us?

In recent days, I have been absorbing Margaret Wheatley's new book slowly, intently, with the due deliberation she asks of her readers. I must say that she has often reappeared in my own life's work like this - with a presentation or a new book at just the right moment when I am looking for some affirmation for what I'm seeing, feeling, perceiving is going on in our world, when I can use some good counsel and some wisdom from the, well, from the wise. I have suggested before on this site that we are facing collapse, and that western civilization as we've known it is in an irreversible decline, right along with the ecosystems of the planet that we have shredded. And so I appreciated from the start her reference to one source that altered my own perception of these times, that gave me some of the intellectual tools to understand this moment of transition, Joseph A. Tainter's, The Collapse of Complex Societies. It is not an easy book to find anymore, at least not a reasonable rate, so check libraries or used book stores.

Her other anchoring resource for her writings on the patterns of collapse that she and others of us are seeing now is a 27-page essay by Sir John Glubb, The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival, and this one can be read and downloaded for free by clicking on the link. It is, shall we say, enlightening.

The Western culture is built upon linear thinking; yet what all these studies show is that all empires fail, that collapse is simply part of the cycle of life and this includes civilizations, and that following collapse, something new comes into being.

We will not escape this dynamic energy of reality.

This always leaves me with a few rather challenging questions: what do we need to live through a period of collapse? And where do we want to locate ourselves in that process - within the paradigm that is collapsing, or within the dynamism of the new that is emerging? And then, should we wisely choose the latter, how do we contribute to ensuring that the most resilient, life-giving possibilities shape what emerges, the radically new ways of life that circle us back to roots, to basics, to a process of re-learning how to live here?
Building community

None of this will be easy. It will be wrenching in many ways and test us profoundly - test our humanity and our psychological and spiritual resilience. But, to paraphrase Thomas Berry in his brilliant book, The Great Work, if we are born into these times, we need to trust that we have been given what we need to fulfill the role "assigned" to us.

I see the signs of the emergence now in so many communities around this country. We will continue to share some of these stories on our New Creation Stories blog. Check in from time to time, or sign up to receive posts via email. Many people are rising to the challenge. To see and hear them, we need to silence all that stuff of the consumer/industrial/technological culture that makes it hard to do that.

When you find them, go to those places. It is in these circles that we are learning how to do this work from the bottom up. In these spaces, we must lay down ego, self-interest, fear of vulnerability, walls of protection constructed precisely in response to this spirit-damaging culture, and go deep within to find what we have to contribute. I promise that if you go there, you will find that you have amazing gifts to offer.

The ending of the old and the beginning of the new. That's the crossroads of our generation. And what Wheatley is calling forth from us is that we become leaders at precisely this moment when prophetic leadership is urgently needed. And so I end with her call.
This book is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear in turmoil.
In such times as these, may we all look deep within to find our inner leader, then get it out into the world where each of us is needed to make the new emergent creation.

~ Margaret Swedish

* Living a Reflective Life, an interview with Dr. C. Otto Scharmer, LCWR Occasional Papers - Summer 2017


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