It Has Begun

“I don’t know about you but I feel like Jung was certainly right. I mean, I have mentioned before that what we do affects the next seven generations. In other words, I am carrying the history and experiences of the past seven generations. Some will say that it is not fair, that it means I am carrying baggage. But you have to remember that it goes both ways. I am also carrying the beauty, strength and knowledge of the past seven generations. Sometimes it is also about remembering or investigating where we come from, so we know better who we are today.

The history of the Native Americans is sadly filled with trauma and what I would qualify as genocides. Massacres such as Wounded Knee, need to be remembered as they affect the soul of all. Such massacres also affect the land they took place upon. The memory of what happened lives within the Earth. The bodies, the blood lives within the soil. If you think about how Native American culture emphasizes the connection to the Earth, a wound to the Earth is a wound to the people. It is a wound to the earth-connected side we all have, thus a wound to the soul. The feelings and the hurt of those who passed away on the battlefields do not die with them. They remain in each of us. The Land holds our stories, the land will evoke our personal and collective stories, it will remind us of them. As the land is also living. Violence to the people or the land led to the suffering of the following generations, as it is stored in our collective unconscious or psyche.”
Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious and Native Americans

“No law shall be passed that harms the children.”
Native American Tribal Counsel

 

It is all together too easy to lose our personal power. One person gazing with horror at the non-stop carbon dioxide production of our global footprint – what are we to do? Words by the billions have already been written, detailing what we know about humanity’s ecological relationships with the biosphere. Studies have been funded and conferences have been held, speeches have been given and protests have been organized. Prayers and songs have been offered, tears and blood have been shed.

Still the amount of carbon dioxide pollution increases at a frightening rate year after year. Still each year is a record breaking one, warmer than the last. We are all living in a slow motion train wreck. Those with window seats are traumatized, and in my mind, they are the lucky ones. Those who are called to become mindful of ecological relationships between the human footprint and the biosphere are given sacred knowledge. We cannot use it, we can allow it to use us.

If we ask how we can make a difference that will really make a difference, it is difficult to imagine anything we could do that has not already been done. There is not, in fact, much a single individual can do to change the trajectories we are on. It does no good to pretend otherwise. This is the shock of the horrified, the shock that comes to those who are given a glimpse of the Juggernaut we have built. Have you seen it? Have you watched Homo Colossus tear up the earth? It’s metallic maw chews up rain forests and ocean reefs then spits out cancerous waters darkened with sickness and starvation. If we are honest with ourselves, it is as if some part of ourselves simply flat-lines staring at the wall of ignorant indifference. We are numbed by the planetary powers in play of truly titanic proportions.

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Yesterday I saw a graffiti of ‘Trump’ across an ecology sign along a park walkway. Gave me the feeling of darkening Nazi skies. There is a perception that ecologists are freaks; forever going on about chipmunks and creeks, moss killer and robins. Freaks that should just be run over if they insist on standing in the way of making America Great Again.

It doesn’t do any good to pretend we are not who and what we are. We are tempted to pretend we do not have a point of view running as deep as these boulders. As if by denying these passionate, simple commitments made in our hearts we could assure the world that we too are just like everyone else. Something to bear in mind when thinking about these things. Your own simplicity is the path.

It was an interesting victory a few days ago for the long patient Standing Rock protest. Their prayer and ceremony was powerfully effective on a number of levels. The ripples from these events are bound to play out along lines both joyful and sorrowful, beautiful and ugly for a long time to come. People mindful of ecology will most certainly want to keep an eye on this pipeline project as it has become a rumbling of earth spirituality through the federal government of the United States. If my intuition is right there is considerably more riding on the wings of those prayer feathers than first meets the eye. Water protectors are of the elemental realm. They have witnessed to a level of purity and fundamental truth about our times. The troubled American psyche marks the moment: water turned against water protectors, veterans involved, treaty rights of this land’s indigenous peoples questioned again, the Army Corp of Engineers involved, energy corporations involved, ecological legal regulations involved, and all attended by a popular uprising of people insisting that the wholesale destruction of the earth must stop. Now.

Mark this moment. Grandfathers, please pray for us.

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Sustainability (def.): of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

The changes to the ocean acidification recorded in the last hundred years will take ten-thousand years to work their way through the system. Are there words for this? Has a generation ever before claimed so much for themselves alone?

This is a simple boulder of truth: that which cannot be sustained, will not be sustained.

I have no more words.

Let’s just sit and watch the reason we brought this disaster upon our children, the wonderful bounty of our happy modern lives. Koyaanisqatsi.

Hanging in There

“What matters above all else is the attitude we take towards suffering, the attitude in which we take our suffering upon ourselves. … man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has meaning.”
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

I feel beat up by the future.
I know the ecological sciences as well as I know anything, still when I encounter a blunt articulation of our ecological future by someone I trust, such as the one published last week (“too little too late”) by Michael Greer, it comes as a body blow. The tragedy of die-off is something my mind cannot really grasp but my body seems to respond to. I am old enough that the fear of nuclear war once saturate my body. There was a time it joined all the other fears I had about the future, including my own mortality, and simply became unbearable. I learned the hard way there is just no room for that much fear.

We are so enamored with our conceptual minds it is rare to quite them down enough to feel what the body is actually experiencing but when we do we find it has a wisdom all its own, a wisdom not couched in conceptual thought but more raw and direct. It is a wisdom of, shall we say, our genetics perceiving time and space events through us. Right now the body message throughout the world includes all those aspects of pollution we have been discussing, both mental and physical. It picks up the poisons in the physical world of elemental air, water and food even as it processes the hubris, greed and selfishness of the corporation dominated social world. Within its nervous system it is not fooled by the ceaseless chatter of the ego’s shallow thoughts.

Our bodies are strange to us. They are subjective matter in its most paradoxical form and one in which we have a very personal stake. At some level each of us cannot ignore the mystery of thinking meat. It is the only material object we can access from the inside. When we pierce this experience with our awareness as far as it is possible to go what we find is that the element of subjective awareness is more fundamental to its experience then the abstractions of mind and matter in complete isolation to one another. This was Bishop Berkeley’s great insight, that experience is primary.

“Each of us has this inner knowledge of only one such body, and it is by virtue of this that we are individuals. This material object here, and this one alone, I can know with a direct, non-sensory, non-intellectual knowledge from within: everything else in the universe I can know only from without, via the representations of sense and intellect, which are themselves functions of physical organs which are parts of this body of mine – which means that my knowledge of all other bodies is gained from the standpoint of this one and its position in time and space. This individuation, and the fact that all knowing is only for an individual (not to mention the fact that there is a dichotomy between knowing and being, such that we do not even know what we are) – these things lie very near the heart of life’s mystery. ‘Everyone can be only one thing, whereas he can know everything else, and it is this very limitation that really creates the need for philosophy.'”
Bryan Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer quoting from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation

We fear suffering. You do. I do. If the most precious thing in all the universe, say the one and only son of God if your metaphysical predilections run that way, were to also need to suffer, would that make bearing your own cross a bit easier? For centuries peoples of the west believed it did. Our grandmothers and grandfathers looked to a corpus on a cross and found therein some measure of strength and solace. Why?

I submit it is because the body in crucifixion is experiencing suffering that has a purpose. In the context of the metaphysic in which the crucifixion takes place that act is understood to be a necessary one; Christ died to save sinners, or as I would put it, to save the ignorant from needing to act out the existential facts being revealed in quite so dramatically bloody fashion. The act became a metaphor, a spiritual signal.

Life entails suffering; this is the truth, the first ennobling truth. There is no escaping it, try as we might. It is easy for awareness to go shooting off to the stars when things get to be too much. It is a sign of spiritual maturity to be able to stay with pain, to hang on the cross with both eyes open. As creatures evolved to seek pleasure and avoid pain, powerful scripts within drive us to desperately seek a final solution to the problem of pain; a final answer to the riddle of an existence capable of the sweetest heights of love and wonder yet so susceptible to devastating heartbreak. What the wisdom traditions offer us, if we are willing to accept their teaching, is that even the most excruciating pain imaginable is bearable if it has meaning, if it will help someone else.

It might be easy to characterize our Prozac Nation as one in which we expect a pill for everything; a quick fix for all depression and sadness to get us right back on that shiny tinsel path of consumer lifestyles but I don’t read the data that way. I think our Prozac Nation is suffering an immense lack of meaning. Having achieved a certain minimum required for our physical and social well-being we failed to learn and teach a culture of contentment. The nonstop messages of malcontent – your not quite rich enough, famous enough, powerful enough, smart enough, good enough, handsome or beautiful enough – have left us psychically hollow. In pursuit of goals of self-fulfillment we have lost touch with the power of self-transcendence; we no longer find it easy to live for something or someone greater than ourselves.

Viktor Frankl survived the death camps of World War II only to find out when set free by the allies that most of his family had been killed. He went on to reflect upon his experience in the camps, particularly what separated those who found a will to live from those who could not in such circumstances. He developed his observations into a psychological healing modality known as logotherapy: logos less like the Word of Christian theology (Dr. Frankl was Jewish) but more as the ancient Greeks used the term to indicate that which is ordered and rational, in a word, meaningful.

In his most well known work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he relays the following story which both resonates very deeply with me personally and also captures the essence of logotherapy. An elderly man lost his beloved wife some years earlier. He was still struggling every day to make it without her presence. Dr. Frankl asked him how she would feel if he had died first, to which the elderly man quickly replied, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered.” So, Dr. Frankl pointed out, “such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” The man, Frankl reports, silently shook his hand and calmly left. Nothing had changed: his wife was still dead, the house still empty, but a measure of something greater than suffering had been revealed, changing the elderly man’s attitude.

What Viktor Frankl proposed was that human beings have a will to meaning as powerful as our will to survive. We have a deep desire to believe our lives have purpose. The wasteland of consumerism pretends owning things is meaningful in itself, as a sort of last ditch effort to deal with the modernity in which, as Frankl noted, “No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition [any longer] tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do.”

When the will to meaning is thwarted it can become a will to power as Nietzsche and Aldrian psychology teach, including its most primitive form, the will for money. Another possibility when the will to meaning is thwarted is the Freudian will to pleasure. This is why sexual escapades so often accompany bouts with this “existential vacuum.” This “existential vacuum” is also known as the Sunday neurosis or holiday blues that hit us when the business of the week recedes and we are left staring at the lack of meaningful content in our lives. Frankl saw juvenile delinquency and alcoholism as reactions to this vacuum and I would add those sensitive to the ecological message of the times are also at risk of experiencing similar needs to numb or lash out if their lives are not physically embodying some form of fight against the ongoing poisoning and a nurturance of healing for the earth herself.

This week I am going to give the last word to Antero Alli, author of Angel Tech. In an earlier post I shared the cover of this book as an illustration of the robot and the angel which can be a useful metaphor for teaching us to recognize all the people we encounter are the walking wounded. While I would not recommend the book for everyone, it is more like an Rx that if you need it you have already likely been given it, the heart of it consists of a set of sermons given to ‘souls in Chapel Perilous’ which capture some of what is involved in the western esoteric traditions when the rubber hits the road. The last sermon deals with the crucifixion metaphor but before we can appreciate what he has to teach it is important to recall what the robot is all about.

The robot stands for the character armor with which our egos build their defensive walls. It consists of habitual tensions in our muscle systems and other rigidities within our physiology. The child abused badly enough, for example, does not have the soft flexibility required to accept love from others because the canalizations of imprints have left scars throughout the body / mind complex. But there is another aspect to the robot metaphor that speaks to the intellectual tenor of our times which Frankl has expressed well:

“First of all, there is a danger inherent in the teaching of man’s ‘nothingbutness,’ the theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment. Such a view of man makes him a robot, not a human being.
To be sure, a human being is a finite being, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.”

Snippets overheard from the sermon on the crucifixion: “The function of human limitations are in their articulation of the time-space coordinates essential for manifesting spiritual intent… When the great soul Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross in her human form as a man, she did so to convert her death into a metaphor for the rest of humanity. The primary intent behind the crucifixion is astoundingly simple. It has been completely overlooked due to the human forms’ immense capacity for fear, guilt and hatred, all of which has complicated and twisted a rather sweet and elegant message. This is not to offend those of this congregation who are still enraptured by its unfathomable depth and meaning… for that is here to. It’s just that the utter simplicity of the soul Christ requires, perhaps, a bit more elucidation…

CrucifixionYou are all crucified to the cross of your human forms. The grace of your evolution requires you to give in completely to every limitation until your entire being commits itself to penetrating its human form. There can be no holding back and no hesitation. The direction is through the center and out the other side, courageously, with all three eyes open.”

Hyperobjects

People who have taken the time to learn the facts about the ecological situation of earth are typically shocked by the bleak starkness of the scientific message. Those who take this knowledge to heart and attempt to feel it are immediately struck by an inability to fully grasp the reality of the whole cursed thing. Some of our philosophers agree. Timothy Morton claims circumstances like climate change are Hyperobjects in a book by the same name – they have a dimension that remains out of our reach. His analysis is that the modern mind is incapable of appropriate comprehension; it grows numb before the immensity of what he calls ‘A Quake in Being.’ He writes, “hyperobjects are futural… they scoop out the objectified now of the present moment into a shifting uncertainty.” (pg. 122) In other words if climate change, bottleneck, overshoot and all the rest of the ecological blowback is really real, everything about the way we live our lives today is subject to an uncertain future.

One aspect of that uncertain future remains highly probable, namely, that if any of those ecological scenarios truly describe it there is going to be a lot more suffering on this planet. Already we suffer from powerlessness as it is not at all clear there is anything individuals can do that is going to be nearly effective enough to make much difference.

We are polluting our nest and tearing down our home because we have lost touch with our human nobility. Last week touched on the role of our intention to act without harming the earth or bringing additional suffering to sentient beings: ‘Our intention could be said to be the simple desire to see the end of unnecessary suffering for ourselves, our species and the whole of the living earth.’ The point was made that however mixed our motives might be, we should recognize that which is inspiring our better aspirations is a factor of our being that is clear, even pure – something steady we can rely on to guide us. Here we come to the loadstone of the path, the magnetic radiance that gives our questions of purpose and meaning a bearing of true north. Compassion is large enough to include a land ethic. This ethic carries universal appeal.

Of course it is also said the road to Mephistopheles backyard is paved with good intentions. Once someone has become familiar with this material they face a serious choice. We can put it all down the memory hole and forget about it as much as possible. Not that hard while getting through the busy day. If we choose not to forget about it the question then becomes rather basic, focused, and simple; what can I do? How shall I live?

The point of this blog project is to share the idea that learning to work with our minds is one of the wiser things we can do. We cannot solve our problems with the same mind that created them. There is profundity and depth easily accessible through contemplating these ecological subjects. They concern each and every one of us and our loved ones and our hopes for the future and thoughts about what it is to be a human being. It is not surprising that this crisis brings forth visceral reactions in us.

I am suggesting that those of us who prepare ourselves now for the fallout stand a better chance of being of benefit to others in the days to come. I am also suggesting that those who are suffering from the knowledge of our precarious situation can find comfort and strength in the contemplative sciences. In adopting the contemplative traditions I do not suggest we hijack another culture’s traditions wholesale but instead work hard to find the way our own understanding can be put into its service. This entails, in part, looking at our scientific accomplishments.

Starting next week our discussion will take up a model of the human mind rooted in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. It provides a context to understand the contemplative practices we are exploring and the reason why compassion is at the heart of all our efforts. Understanding the nature of our body, speech and brain as the results of the evolutionary process provides a ground for a self compassionate acceptance of our shared humanity with all its follies and wisdoms. As we will see, self compassion tends to be a tricky beast for most of us.

An argument could be made that we are polluting our nest and tearing down our home exactly because we are lacking in sufficient self compassion. If we truly were motivated by a desire to nurture ourselves, wouldn’t we insist on shifting our societies towards more sustainable practices? Wouldn’t we insist on taking better care of ourselves and loved ones than working in the grinding rat race that could very well be destroying our home?

There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the noble dignity we humans embody. In the history of ideas some scholars have traced this to the discovery of evolutionary theory. By this way of thinking we lost our nobility when we were seen to be descendants of animals. The presentation of evolution as a theory of competition instead of cooperation and as a mechanical process instead of one everywhere displaying an embodiment of mind, has removed the traditional supporting justifications for considering the human state precious. It is rather interesting that this presentation of evolutionary thought is just what is needed to justify the social relations found in capitalist societies.

We will begin looking at this next week.

Intention

It takes an enormous amount of courage to open ourselves to the emotional impact of our fears about the future. In a time like ours when corruption, lies and greed are in the driver’s seats, thinking people carry rawness inside, a spot that is tender, painful. We who are ecologically critical of so many of our society’s daily activities have had to stay quiet and get on with the necessary tasks at hand so many times we could not help but build walls of armor to protect ourselves. That is what happens when you take the abuse day after day while feeling powerless to alter course. Somehow we need to find a way to fight the numbness. Somehow we need to find the maturity that can thrive on the tension between the darkness we unwillingly participate in and the purity of our vision.

An epidemic of unhappiness seems to be spreading and not just because this was the week that five of the world’s major banks were declared criminal for manipulating foreign currencies and exchange rates. It seems to me that those I meet and talk with are running on empty. It is as if we are growing tired waiting for the next shoe to fall. Most people of my acquaintance are attuned to stories like the record breaking heat wave in India, the oil spill on the Santa Barbara coast and the goosing of our pretenses about regulating greenhouse gases by giving fracking endless capital and Shell a green light for deep water Arctic exploration, just to mention a few of the environmental stories of the last week or so. There is a Presidential election coming to America soon, could we possibly be less excited about it bringing any substantial improvement between the governed and the governors? The stock markets are reaching record heights yet everywhere people are saving if they can, saving up for a rainy day most are sure is just around the corner.

The posts of the last two weeks have tried to shake the frames by which each of us envisions the future. The dismal assessment I just touched on is part of why it seems important that some space and freedom be granted to tomorrow.  Who knows just exactly how all these trends will play out? (No one.)

Our cultural stories have not left us well prepared for the most likely type of future bearing down on us and our children. In our stories happiness accompanies material wealth; parties and good times being had by all. We lack stories about satisfying lives being found in challenging circumstances or stories that celebrate character for its own sake, even if it does not eventually lead to getting the girl, the house in the Hampton’s and an eight figure bank account. Our stories are all crafted around the glow or glare of the spotlight; heroic deeds performed by larger than life gods and goddesses dripping with fame. No longer a slave to taste we bravely explore torture, blaspheme, and abuses of every kind within these same well-worn story tracks. Our stories are born from our sense of ourselves as a people. They dictate where meaning can be found, how relationships should go, what goals in life are worth pursuing and what each of us should expect from life in return. Has anyone noticed what they have done to the young people in our midst?

Those are the expectations that are poisoning us, those that get deep inside and dictate to us what we should expect of life. For more and more people the expectations are not being met and the cognitive dissonance this is creating is coming to a boiling point. To escape being slave to your culturally created expectations – strengthen your intention. Ask not what your planet can do for you but what you can do for your planet.

The key to a mindful resistance to ecocide is to examine alternatives and ask what skills, attitudes and intelligence do we want to try and bring to the tasks of living well with our ecological knowledge and ethic? It is common enough that there is no viable alternative available today. That is when we need to respect the power of our intention. We may need to participate in a fossil fuel burning form of transportation to earn our daily bread but we do not have to approve of it. We can continue to foster in our hearts the desire to see a wiser society capable of meeting its transportation needs on a human scale. We may need to participate in the industrialized agribusiness to put that daily bread on the table but we do not have to approve of it. We can continue to foster the hope that sooner or later our societies will again live within their means and not depend on phantom acreage.

This may look to be a tiny thing in the face of the challenges we are confronting. Yet it alone might have the power to sustain the hard work of remaining open to our world and our times. It sustains the view that recognizes that in spite of all our ego-games and self-involvement there remains in us something that is pure, something that is clear. Our intention is beyond the limits of our cognitive mind since it includes our emotional makeup and our talents for navigating time. Our intention is not like a prayer or an aspiration, though it is often expressed in those ways. Our intention, if I was to put it into words, could be said to be the simple desire to see the end of unnecessary suffering for ourselves, our species and the whole of the living earth.

It seems such an outrageous dream, such an unrealistic hope. These objections miss the point. The path to the end of suffering is made up of steps that minimize suffering. Stands to reason, right? Those steps are surely within our reach. Not a day goes by where each and every one of us does not have at least a few opportunities to choose between lessening some form of suffering or not. Our ancestors understood this well and enshrined them in the corporal and spiritual act of mercy.

I prefaced this with a few words about our stories because it’s easy to misunderstand talk about our pure intention. With our cultural stories for context, ending suffering is typically heard as ‘nothing hurts’ but that is not what is meant. We cannot remove the pain from life but we can remove unnecessary suffering from that pain. What is here being alluded to is subtle. The Stoics had some element of the right understanding when they encouraged students with, “He is most powerful who has power over himself.” They recognized there is a value to staying true to one’s ideals, that it delivers a happiness that is not dependent on the fickle winds of fate and fortune which we cannot control.

Those of us who dwell in the overdeveloped world are of necessity enmeshed in systems which harm the earth. Modern life entails participation in activities we don’t approve of, activities actively damaging our planet. Often alternative means for procuring life’s necessities are not available. Mass produced, mass marketed, mass consumed industrialized culture suffers from mono-vision. For all our talk of freedom and technological progress there is a surprising dearth of real choices for how we work, move, eat and educate ourselves. Monopolies abound, dissensus not so much. An honest appraisal of our situation recognizes that there is much we as individuals do not control.

Yet, it is equally true that there is very little we as individuals do not influence in any way whatsoever. Here the cracks begin, the cracks where the light gets in. Here is why holding one’s intention clearly is so important. Knowing what you stand for both steadies us for the hard work of remaining open and readies us for taking advantage of any opportunities that present themselves to participate in more life affirming alternatives.

Ultimately the core industrial processes as we know them will prove to be a short chapter in our species history. Consuming and wasting as many non-renewable resources as fast as possible to maximize profit and growth is simply not a sustainable value system for organizing cultures. The temporary energy bonanza now coming to an end enabled it and we were quick to add the delusions about our special place in the sun it required. Today as the age of consequences is just getting started, the search for alternative values and stories by which to organize and understand our social lives is apparent everywhere. We are losing our reference points and along with them the legitimacy of our former institutions. It can be very unsettling to live through the twilight of idols.

Get to know your pure intention. It is not the weakling modern ad-copy makes it out to be. It does not guarantee 15 minutes of fame, nor riches, nor even popularity. It will, however, provide a steady light – just that which is most valuable in a time of darkness.

Tomorrow in our Land

To make hash out of body metaphors – deep in the breast is lodged a chip on our shoulder. Each of us have an unexamined surety that basically we-know-what-is-really-going-on. Sure we recognize we are often confused and mistaken but, fundamentally, our default approach to life is that we are uniquely plugged into its meaning. We are sure what god wants, or nature or the universe wants, or perhaps what evolution, history, politics, or economics wants. Pick the flavor that resonates with you.

When put as baldly as that it is not hard to recognize that although each of these options represent adversarial points of view, they none-the-less share certain characteristics. They each offer to their acolytes a degree of certainty about the unknown and the unknowable future. We looked last week at some of the dangers involved in forcing the future into the box of our expectations and today will tease a few more insights from it. It is not surprising we find such systems of thought seductive yet these overly simple views have a tendency to fuel fundamentalisms of one stripe or another. Fundamentalisms in turn tend to fuel violence as the heretics who threaten this surety must burn. This dynamic is well illustrated in the film about Ernest Becker’s work, Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality.

Of course in our more sophisticated moments we are sure evolution, nature and history have no actual direction. We avoid the teleological error in polite company. The problem with this overly simple view is that, as we learned earlier, ecosystems do seek out a type of goal as they evolve toward their climax communities. There are scholars of history who have claimed to find a type of cyclic ebb and flow in the human realm as civilizations rise and fall. They document another type of goal or end to which things are tending even if that end is not a stopping point but just another way station of an ongoing cyclical spiral.

I think we need to proceed carefully in looking for a middle way between these two overly simplifying positions we can take when we are orienting ourselves towards the future. It seems to me the first steps on the path to wisdom will of necessity involve a willingness to shake up our certainties and our uncertainties a bit. How else might we make the space in which something new can bloom?

Let’s not lose sight of what we are trying to do with mindfulness about ecology – waking up. We want to remove the numbness that fails to appreciate the preciousness of every breath of air, every drink of water and every bite of food we and all sentient beings partake of. We want to pierce the veil of our habitual mental abstractions that dulls our perceptions so we can know it is not true that ‘if you’ve seen one Redwood, you’ve seen them all.’ We want to nurture the insight that sees beyond the surface where things clothe themselves in the illusion of being unchanging and independent. We are willing to go through a stage of purgation to arrive at a stage of illumination.

These represent working skillfully with our nervous system by understanding its strengths and weaknesses. The idea is that by working with the nature of our minds and senses just as they are, we increase the degrees of freedom we are able to bring to bear when making the choices that build our future; choices that are always and only made moment by moment. Recognizing the power of choice places our feet firmly on the path that leads towards liberation.

The contemplative traditions can be maddening to those who want to be told what to do. Instead of offering dictates from above they recommend maturing your own wisdom so that you can determine what the best action to pursue is among all that are offered in each circumstance. Recognizing general guidelines can only ever be guidelines respects both the contingency and the patterns that confront us in every event.

Give too much weight to the patterns and it can seem the only way forward is to continue conservatively whatever is working now. Economic growth and resource exploitation is feeding, clothing and housing more people today than at any time in history. Why rock the boat?

Give too much weight to contingency and it can seem the only way forward is to build a new world on the rubble of the old. Every element of business as usual can be shown to be interdependently linked to exploitation of the poor and the theft of limited resources from future generations. Why not rock the boat?

Those of us who care deeply about the precarious situation we see our species in at this time need to wrestle with these questions and issues if we are to have any chance of dealing with what is really real. As tempting as it might be to cocoon ourselves in our own personal dogmatic certainty, the only actions that will effectively relieve suffering are those that are grounded in the reality of the situations we are confronting. Acting from habitual delusions robs us of the potential power we do have. Failing to recognize the full spectrum of freedom in the space of our choices restricts and limits the responses we believe are available to us, just at the time when a great dissensus is most sorely needed.

Consider an example that might be relevant for many readers, if not now than perhaps will be in the not too distant future. Consider a confrontation between a group of desperately hungry individuals and another group with access to food stuffs. Ask yourselves how many options might be viable? Remember this is an exercise about the real world so the TV and movie solutions are unlikely to have much actual value. In other words, while blowing away one of the groups with guns blazing is one possibility it should not exhaust all your options.

Which leads to the other point I wanted to tease out of our examination of our expectations about tomorrow. Real violence is not sexy. It inevitably includes an aspect of pathos, an element of the pathetic. The American culture might be the most removed from actual acts of violence, sickness and death of any people in the long history of peoples on earth, while simultaneously being surrounded by more images of choreographed, fake violence through ‘action’ movies and TV than any other peoples as well. When considering the freedom of choice around realistic actions to be taken in response to the crisis of our times, our being aware of this unprecedented manipulation of our fears is a necessary ingredient. The flip side of this violent hero worship also needs to be critically assessed. The flip side is hero worship of perfect, loving saviors. These are the heroes that set everything right with the world by promising to end all suffering. We encounter them in countless sit-coms and romantic dramas; getting married to the kind, sexy billionaire is one type. Between the heroes with guns blazing and the heroes saving everyone from all suffering, we as a people seeking to wisely nurture compassion need to make a middle way. We need to find a realistic way forward that can be expressed in the day to day choices of our lives.

A few minutes thought should quickly show how those generalizations about absolutes we adore are really not sufficient for dealing with a question like this about the allocation of food. It all depends on the details of the circumstances. What if the hungry party consists of a pregnant woman or two with children in tow? Might the wise move be different than if it were say, a biker gang? Or what if it was a gang but you were fairly certain further gangs could be expected to show up soon?

When I laid out the scenario did your mind immediately go to some sort of Mad Max, post-apocalyptic environment? What I had in mind was actually the United States as it is right now. There are plenty of urban areas that are food deserts (pdf) where people live surrounded by only fast food and liquor dispensers and need to travel many miles to access any truly nutritious food. There are plenty of places where desperate poverty lives side-by-side with such food luxury it is hard for most of us to even imagine, like the $25,000 Frozen Haute Chocolate dessert.

The future we will share is being built by the choices we are each making moment by moment. There are factors that will mold the shape of that future that could be considered predetermined, factors that are the effects of causes already sown. When the conditions for their fruition come about those effects will come about as well. Still, this reality of the most probable does not mean there is no longer any room for choices being made today to alter the conditions. What you and I do today matters.