Stretching through Grief

sad-child-at-a-stone-wall-George Hodan
image via Public Domain.net/ George Hodan

Here in the mid-March energies, few are not feeling the effects of the changes happening across our planet. In a profound sense, humanity is experiencing a tsunami of change. Yet, as humans being, well, human, we tend to dismiss, deny, disregard or discount what is actually happening here on Earth. The good news is, more and more are waking up and discovering that the Earth changes are real, not imagined. They are recognizing the need for massive changes to how we treat our world, each other, and ourselves. And while it’s hopeful to know all of this, knowledge alone doesn’t help with the intense emotions that accompany all this change.

Right now I am in a cycle of viscerally experiencing the tensions running extraordinarily high all around me. We all experience it in our own way, and for me it manifests as grief. There’s a lot to grieve in our present state—go to any reputable online news site and there is no lack of sad stories across the world. On Monday, for example, an airliner carrying 157 people from Ethiopia to Nairobi crashed, killing everyone on board. The daily news tells similar stories of unexpected death, destruction, injustice, corruption, abuse, inhumanity, and damage to Gaia in a nonstop stream. Even if a person has no interest in reading these reports, it’s basically impossible to avoid the knowledge of these chaotic times. It’s literally in the air we all share, the water we all use, and the common ground beneath our feet.

It can be difficult to know what to do with all the heavy energies around us. I read many blogs and watch select YouTube channels for encouragement and inspiration. Some days this helps, but other days nothing I read or listen to seems to touch the level of sorrow I feel regarding our world. Many times I read advice to the effect of, “Be joyful! The changes happening on Earth are necessary for the purging and cleansing of long-held negative and toxic energies that humans have held onto for eons of time. You cannot take the old energies with you into the new Earth, so it’s imperative to forgive others, forgive yourself, and release them.” I understand this logic with my mind, but right now I cannot feel joyful as I look at all the difficult life experiences we are enduring. There are times to grieve for what is being lost, and that’s how I’m personally experiencing what’s happening right now.

On this blog, I’ve posted recently about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has made headlines around the world for her courageous school strikes in protest of the lack of action by world leaders. At the end of this week, on March 15th, many thousands of school-aged children and youth are planning to strike for climate action all across the globe. Greta, in an interview with The Guardian this week, said she was excited about the strike, and that it will be fun. But she made no hopeful speech about the future of Earth for her generation. She clearly recognizes that by the time she reaches mid-life, the world is likely to be a very difficult place to live upon for nearly everyone. For those of us who also see that future as very likely, it’s a heartbreaking acknowledgment of how we’ve mistreated our home, and through our complacency and lack of care, have allowed the climate crisis to continue.

I am by nature an optimist and want, more than anything, to believe that solutions will come in time for the next generations of humanity to have a chance at a healthy world to live in and raise their children and grandchildren. But to be completely honest, it is becoming harder and harder to believe in a healthy future world in thirty, fifty, or a hundred years, without some seriously major changes on a global scale happening NOW. That is Greta’s message, and she speaks for many millions of people. As long as the majority of people in power do little to change policies, laws and regulations regarding fossil fuel use, the future scenarios we’ve all heard and seen of a dystopian world are likely to become reality.

When I look around at our planet, say on the internet, and see places that still hold such absolute beauty and majesty, are still relatively unspoiled by humanity’s activity and where wilderness is still alive, it makes me wonder how much longer will these places survive intact? Increasingly there is a split between the human-made world and the world of nature, to the point where now there are many humans who never experience wild places, or even touch the bare earth with their bodies. Through technology, people feel that they no longer need direct, sensory experience of nature because they can play virtual reality games which simulate those type of experiences. A whole generation of humans are now being raised in a virtual reality environment without direct knowledge of how it feels to simply be outside in a wild place, with all the sensory stimulus it provides. It’s the equivalent of eating fast food your whole life, never realizing that there is food available that’s natural, unadulterated, and nutritious. Having never experienced it, they don’t even know it exists or what they’ve missed out on all those years.

The premise of this blog is that all life on Earth is connected, that we are all joined in the great web of everything-that-is. When one is hurt, all feel it on some level, no matter to what degree. The thought of a future earth that is uninhabitable because it has become so damaged by thoughtless, careless human beings full of hubris who only focused on extracting the planet’s treasures without giving life back, is utterly unbearable. No one wants to live in such a world, so why are we living in such a way?

The battle between the head, heart and hands   

Rudolf-Steiner-Quote_highest-endeavor

 We live in an age where dominant value is placed on the intellect (or head) aspect of human beings. Most would agree that society values most those who are cleverest, have studied longest (such as doctors and attorneys) and those who have used their intellectual prowess to gain the most monetary reward (think Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos). Conversely, society places the least value on those who do “necessary” jobs involving physicality: farmers, construction workers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, and those who primarily rely on their hands to make their living. In between are the ones who focus on the heart: teachers, health care workers, caregivers, social workers, social and environmental activists, artists and creative people. Clearly, there are millions of combinations, and the luckiest of all people are those who find ways to live in the world with all three aspects balanced. The optimum condition for health and happiness, it seems, is to strike the perfect combination of intellect, feeling and physicality in one’s daily life.

Many authors and experts have already written tens of thousands of volumes on this topic. So why do I dare to explore it in my blog tonight? Mostly because I’ve been pondering my options for what to do with my life a lot lately, and this idea of balance between the head, heart and hands has reemerged for me. The phrase brings me all the way back to when I first heard about Waldorf education, 27 years ago. The Waldorf movement uses the expression “head, heart and hands” as its motto. It captured my imagination strongly at that time, which ultimately led to a several-year journey down the Waldorf teacher path. That path was full of discoveries and knowledge of the child, the human being, and our unshakeable connection with the spiritual side of our nature, via the teachings of Rudolf Steiner about a hundred years ago. Let me be clear that I love and respect Rudolf Steiner and the essential esoteric teachings he brought forward to humanity during his era of history (For a taste of Steiner’s wisdom and philosophy, click here). However, times change and so should theories of education. As I became further involved in Waldorf education and its proponents, I found a level of rigidity and dogmatism within its ranks that I simply couldn’t abide—eventually, I had to leave it and move on.

Like any polarizing philosophy, anthroposophy (the underlying philosophy beneath Waldorf pedagogy) has a core following of believers who carry its tenants with fundamentalist fervor. There are many wonderful aspects to Waldorf education, including a reverence and respect for Nature, an acknowledgment of the human’s role as bridge between earth and heaven, an emphasis on health, play, spending time outside in natural surroundings, building trust and love between all members of the class (who stay together with their class teacher from first through eighth grade). It’s known to be a holistic form of learning, an artistic education that fosters creativity, teamwork, cooperation, and honoring of each person’s humanity. In many respects, there is a lot to love about Waldorf schools. In fact, I fell in love the first time I experienced a Waldorf kindergarten, when my youngest child and I had an exploratory visit to see if there might be a spot for her chubby, adorable three-year-old self. I remember sitting in one of the toddler-sized wooden chairs, watching the kind, pretty, young women teachers who were gently guiding the children, readying them for the freshly prepared, whole grain, organic lunch they were about to sit down to eat together. The atmosphere was so calm, so relaxing, with a beeswax candle burning brightly in the middle of the polished wooden table, bowls of hot porridge set for each young child. When everyone was seated, the lead teacher asked everyone to hold hands around the table and she sang a lovely song of thanks for the food, the sun, and for each other. Then the hungry children happily ate the wholesome meal, in between smiles and laughter all around. I sat quietly, amazed at the scene I was witnessing, wishing I could simply stay in that pink-draped, rainbow infused world forever.

But, as all too often happens in the world, the idealism and harmony I experienced that day, and throughout my subsequent teacher training program which lasted three years, did not hold up. Eventually I saw another, shadow side to the pedagogy and met teachers who were unwilling (or perhaps unable) to change, adapt, and embrace new ideas and concepts, shedding what was no longer appropriate for 21st century children. This divide, between traditional, strictly dictated ways of teaching and learning with new methods, ideologies and educational theories, is a prime example of the battle currently raging between humanity’s collective head, heart and hands. Plenty of people espouse the extreme benefits of technology in our world, extoling artificial intelligence and robotics, predicting that technological advances will surely save us from an otherwise hellish future. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who eschew the evils of technology, screens and virtual realities. Those folks preach that only by returning to a kinder, gentler time, long before modern technology was invented, will humanity be able to restore its former compassionate, natural way of living close to Mama Gaia, and eventually get back to a state of paradise and equilibrium on Earth once more.

As for my own position, I am awkwardly standing in between the two polarities. Technology is advancing exponentially, and most of us living in industrialized societies have become hyper dependent upon it (how close is your hand to your cell phone at any moment in your 24/7?). On the other side, the natural world is now at the tipping point of being irretrievably damaged, as the climate has become extraordinarily unstable and extreme weather produces ongoing catastrophic situations at any moment on the planet. We are living through precarious times, attempting to balance on a raft as it’s moving through increasingly whitewater with no end in sight.

We can’t go back to a gentler age, and we don’t want to move forward into a futuristic dystopian nightmare world. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a critical look that humanity must find the fulcrum, the place of balance on which we can stand and continually readjust as we ride out the tsunami waves of this century. We need to protect our planet, period. We must stop valuing and monetizing intellect over all else while devaluing physical labor and emotionality. We are a species at war with ourselves; it is imperative that we learn to love and respect ALL the parts of us, from our heads to hearts to hands, feet and everything in between. If one aspect of the human above all else should lead, then it must be the heart. Only though living with love as the driver will we make wise, compassionate choices that will lead to a future world we want to live in.

For a worthwhile long read on this subject from another angle, see this article on Medium. It’s written by a woman who decided to leave the master’s degree program she had enrolled in at Schumacher College in England, and why she made that difficult choice. She writes, “A core tenet of Schumacher’s approach to education is ‘learning with the head, heart and hands’.”   https://medium.com/@rhithink/leaving-schumacher-college-bcda7ee800c1

Dystopia, Utopia, or some other opia?

global_warming_cartoon_horsey
http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/globalwarming/ig/ Global-Warming-Cartoons/Dithering-on-Climate-Change.0ys1.htm

According to the Oxford Dictionary online, dystopia is:

An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.

I imagine that nearly everyone is familiar with this term, since it seems to be the basis for pop culture’s fascination with all things dark, frightening, and otherwise unpleasant. The fact is, fear, ugliness and horror are extremely popular commodities in our society, as the market clearly shows. I find this fact exceedingly sad, and what’s even sadder is the thought that it will probably only get worse before it gets better.

Thing is, we currently live in a society that is not imagined, in which there exists great suffering and injustice, and is halfway to totalitarian right now. The arguably added dimension to all of this is the utter confusion which swirls around us all like some sort of vortex of doom that no one can fully name or explain. I am currently in a bad habit of reading the New York times online daily (and I admit some days several times), in an effort to understand what actually is happening here on Earth. It feels like we are in a collective reality show that is badly written, badly acted, and has falling ratings. Can’t we just fire these clowns and hire some folks to write us a better collective story, with some humor and nuanced acting?

I read a great essay by Shaun Chamberlin, posted in Resilience.org this week that struck a deep chord within my soul. (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-01-29/realists-of-a-larger-reality/)

He wrote,

“What is necessary, that we might have a future? First, let us consider what we face.

An economy so violently contrary to our human instincts and desires that it leaves epidemics of depression, loneliness and suicide everywhere it goes. That uses mass media and financial stress to hollow our souls and seize control of both our days and our hearts, sparking not only economic and environmental devastation, but cultural and spiritual annihilation. Like villagers glancing fearfully up at the castle of some dauntingly powerful vampire, we live our lives under the shadow of the economy of undeath.

We owe this reality no allegiance. But we owe it respect. It is a worthy adversary, no doubt.

Yet its weak point is obvious. People straight up hate it. They hate their jobs and the materialist hollowness imposed on their lives. Nonetheless, as I grew up inside it the corporate media kept us blind to other possibilities, made it seem patently obvious – only common sense – that continuing to participate in this grim reality is the only realistic option.

But it’s a lie. And while a lie may take care of the present, it has no future. The truth is that it takes immense energy (of all kinds) to keep a population suppressed – to fight all our contrary impulses; to quieten our profound inner misgivings, our spark of creativity and rebellion.”

It seems that the times we are living through now have been foretold by science fiction writers of the 20th century, such as those classics some of us had to read in the name of literature back in high school English classes. Which begs the question: Did we create our current dystopian state of affairs because too many of us read those awful novels and the images went so far into our unconscious minds that we ended up creating them in physical reality fifty years later? Or what?

But, alas, it makes no difference how we got to the chaotic mess we are now in. The real question, as Chamberlin points out in his essay, is What can we do about it? The Beast of the apocalypse is alive, and every bit as hideously evil and grotesque as was described in the Book of Revelation. The zombies are here too, and the living dead, all walking around with their headphones or ear buds in, glued to their electronic devices, and hardly any of them dare to speak aloud while moving through the world any longer. The world has simultaneously become deafening and eerily silent. Humans are listening, but no longer to one another live and face-to-face. The hypnotizers have done such an excellent job of hypnotizing the masses that people can hardly function in society anymore. It’s an apocalypse of social structure, of common language, of basic humanity that we are now facing. Too many have taken the wrong pill, and those who haven’t, whose eyes and ears and voices are open, can see what’s happening and yet are helpless to change it. The world grows more confusing, anxiety-ridden and frightening by the day. Joy becomes narrower and more elusive to touch on the daily.

Towards the middle of his essay, Chamberlin advocates for a complete alternative to being in mainstream society. He gives a picture of hippies sitting on green grass, blissed out, probably high on substances of some kind or other, stating

“I am writing this article from my dear compañero Mark Boyle’s small community in Ireland, An Teach Saor (The Free House). It is a home from home for me, and one of many, many places around the world where the residents are making the logic of money and the market obsolete – abandoning it, before it abandons us. For example, the ‘free pub’ and bunkhouse here – The Happy Pig – is a place where anyone can stay, free of charge, and remember what it is to not have to find money simply to have a place to exist.

You may not have heard much about such places, because that suits the corporate media just fine. But awareness of their agenda brings an emboldening thought. Doubtless, for every bastion of hope and joy you hear of or encounter, there are a hundred more that you haven’t. It is a heartening multiplication that I regularly remind myself of; a counterweight to the mainstream media’s narrow, oppressive ‘realism’.”

It sounds lovely, indeed. In fact, lately I’ve also been pondering the merits of finding myself a bubble world to go inhabit for a while (the rest of my life?) where people are joyful, money and greed aren’t present or necessary, and nature is plentiful. Chamberlain assures us that these utopian places actually do exist, and it is possible to live very well within them. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that is really the best choice for helping the collective world to create a more positive future beyond capitalism. Shall the enlightened simply move out of the rat race that are global cities, and go find some hideaway in the mountains where we can simply be free, smoke marijuana, live off the grid, go vegan, have polyamorous relationships, and do our best to forget all the misery of the rest of humanity? It sounds pretty great in theory…but somehow I don’t think it will quite work out in reality.

It’s 2019, and things are crumbling. We know, deep down, that the world will not, literally CANNOT continue the way it’s been. Capitalism has destroyed the world with a continual, never-ending appetite for consumption. We have collectively bought into the model of greed and endless competition for the bottom line: Money is the world’s god now, no matter how nicely the marketing teams choose to phrase it. The world’s scientists told us last autumn that we, the people of Earth, have roughly 12 years to get it together and seriously change the way we operate, or life as we have known it will be over moving into the future.

It doesn’t get any plainer that this. And yet—Who is listening? Who is changing? I don’t mean light bulbs. Which major governments and corporations are actually making the kind of drastic changes needed to turn this apocalyptic submarine carrier around? 2030 is an eye-blink away.

If you would like a taste of Dark Optimism, watch this Youtube. It’s excerpts from a talk given by Jonathon Porritt and Shaun Chamberlin, describing David Fleming’s views on the world economy and its inevitable collapse.