As I write many friends of mine, people I respect and admire, are up in London on the streets, in Parliament Square, on Waterloo bridge, in Oxford circus, calling for radical steps in addressing climate change and the extraordinary dangers we are facing as dwellers on this beautiful planet. This fills me with joy.
What has frightened me even more than the ecological devastation we have been causing on this planet – over the decades I have been conscious of this – has been the degree to which we don’t speak about it, and we all carry on as if it were a given that life will continue pretty much as we have known it; and that we will live and die knowing that our grandchildren and great grandchildren and generations to come will populate the earth, and enjoy the beauty and abundance of this world as we have done. And yet we all know – whether we want to know it or not – that things are heading for catastrophe (if we are not living in areas which are all too familiar with it already).
I am happy that there is a clarion call to action right now; that the sense of powerlessness many of us have felt has a place to step forward from – and that things can be done as a way of raising awareness, not through bullying or terrorising or shaming, but through a joyous heart-broken up-rising. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a remarkable movement. They have certain principles which are core to its strategy such as NO BLAME – which is radical and much needed in these times; no us and them. And they have studied history and seen what has made certain grass roots movements successful; what has allowed a sea change in public opinion, what has supported turning point moments in history when it seemed that the existing status quo was so entrenched that there was no hope? What allowed the Abolition of slavery movement to catch hold, or the suffragette movement? Or the Indian independence movement? They have seen that non violent direct action works. That these movements need to be organized, based on connection and a over-arching principle of love in action. What I see in the footage I am watching and hearing from friends, is a lot of care, community, out-reach, well organised events, no drugs or alcohol, a lot of integrity and support of the activists. Large numbers are showing up willing to be arrested – and when these are taken, more step into their shoes so the police are overwhelmed with the numbers; other people are taking on the role of legal witnesses, observing, seeing what happens, taking notes, monitoring arrests. Others are involved in giving talks, workshops, emotional support, creative inspiration; dances and meditations are being offered, children’s educational offerings, lots of music, the list goes on.
I am not in London, but here in Devon, doing my work with people and it is increasingly obvious to me that this is not separate in any way to what is happening there. As I sit with someone, or bear witness to them as they speak, move, laugh, cry, recite poetry or sit and gaze with me, I am involved in the same process. A process of waking up out of denial; of facing aspects of ourselves which we have been hiding from (the light and the dark), of coming out of fixed identities and freeing ourselves up so that we are actually available, mind body and heart, to the unfolding of reality; and the unravelling of who we thought we were and where we thought we were heading – into something way more unknown, more mysterious, more unfathomable and less secure or certain than our minds would have us believe or hope for. We are again and again facing the unknown, and facing the inevitability of death, whether it is the death of our personal body, an identity we are wedded to, or extinction of the human race and all the species we share this precious planet with.
To some degree it has always been so. We do not know what is coming. And we need our resources at hand to meet whatever comes our way with as much integrity, sanity, heart, and presence as we can muster – whether it is the latest frustration with something not working, relationship difficulties, or disaster; whether it is feeling numb, lost, terrified, confused, alone or disconnected. We need to realise that it is ok to feel all of this, that we can let go of the shame of our own inadequacies and failings, and actually meet our condition as it is – and through that realise we can meet the world, and find our place in it; whatever is going down.
When people are under stress, they tend to resort to the lowest common denominator; we tend to respond in knee jerk survival tendencies, and are most likely to kick off, lash out, and create more chaos around us than is already happening. As one of my teachers once said, our patterns hate other peoples’ patterns. In other words, if I am triggered into my survival tendencies, I am likely to stimulate your triggered responses, which trigger me further and so things snowball. The more people involved, the more this can start to kick off. It is amazing to me when I am running a group and if a couple of people, or even one, gets very emotionally triggered, the whole group starts to feel it and respond in kind – and most often this is not conscious. The only thing which prevents this snowballing is presence. If there is a critical mass in the room of awakeness, or rather an interest in each individual to feel what is happening inside them and allow it – without acting it out or pretending it isn’t happening or blaming themselves or each other – then the field stabilizes and any individual who is floundering is held in a bigger field of support.
What we need, more than anything, is an increased capacity for a heart/body/mind presence which can navigate stormy waters; which is willing to not know what to do, and then is available to being moved in any direction by a being force which is capable of intelligent response in any given moment.
I know many people who would love to be joining forces with XR in London right now. And they cannot. Either because their health is too precarious, their nervous systems are too frayed, because they need to work, are caring for others, or are simply not moved to join up even though they love what is happening. And there will be many many more who are untouched by all of that and whose focus is in an entirely different direction. What is obvious to me is that we all need to stay with what is appropriate for us in any moment and trust the inter-beingness of us all; trust that we all have our place of action, whether it is nurturing our own system (giving this particular cell of the earth which is our body/mind the attention it needs when it is depleted), spreading information, opening in love to who we are with, allowing ourselves to feel our place in the vastness. And that what is true for me now may not be true tomorrow.
I do feel we are reaching a tipping point in terms of awareness of what is happening. My sense is that essential conversations are beginning to happen. I don’t personally believe – short of miracles (and miracles ARE possible) – there is much hope for humanity in terms of surviving all of this; and I am not sure I would want to survive in a world where most of the other species have become extinct (even if it were possible). But I do have hope that a critical mass of us can live this crisis with maturity, ingenuity, even wonder – that we can face our dying with grace and use it as an opportunity to wake up to our essential natures AS LOVE. And that immense, extraordinary healing can happen in the course of that. Just as for some people the journey of dying through cancer can be a redemptive journey of true awakening where they die happier and more at peace than they were able to live.
I do have hope that we can begin to cherish each moment, each blessed breath, each flower and tree, and gust of wind, each creature and fellow human which we meet along the way. And that we can begin to embrace the whole complex web of what it is to be human, the wonder and the horror of it, simply because it is real, and only a surrender to reality can bring us to our true home and allow us to step forward with the unique gifts that only we can give, in the time we have here.