Like weeds after a hard rain

As some of you know, being a blogger is a mixed deal. Sometimes you’re super inspired and feel like what you have to say is important, fascinating even, and clearly people will want to read what you wrote. Other days, not so much. There are probably millions of blog posts devoted to this topic, with all sorts of cures for the blogger blues, ways to increase readership, drive people to your site, make them want to read YOUR post over the other fifty million out there in blogland. For whatever reasons, none of that really works for me. Maybe I just really don’t care that much about how much traffic I have, or how many readers are reading. It’s a paradox, alright.

During the past month, I became fascinated with the work of Jem Bendell, who wrote a paper titled Deep Adaptation, on how, after looking at a bunch of scholarly and scientifically sound research, he came to the conclusion that societal collapse is basically inevitable. What does this mean? To put it in a nutshell, he concludes that the kind of world we are all accustomed to living in, with all the benefits of modern society that we (mostly) take for granted every day of our lives, will become impossible to maintain and will collapse on itself. When will this breakdown occur? No one knows for sure. Some people think it could happen within decades, or even sooner. There is a Facebook page for people who are on board with Bendell’s analysis, that is a closed group you have to join. Naturally I joined it, so I could connect and see what others have to say about all of this. As you might expect, people are in various stages of agreement with the premise of societal collapse and the details.

This topic, and some of the comments people make on the Facebook group, seem a bit familiar to me. I am reminded of the period of time leading up to the year 2000, when many people were concerned about Y2K, another moment of societal doom. Back then, the theory went, the changeover from the 20th century (1900s) to the new millennium (2000) was simply too much for all the world’s computers to handle, and so they would stop functioning. This would lead to world-wide disaster on a massive scale, so people had better prepare for the worst. Some folks stockpiled emergency food and water, fuel for generators (since the electric grid would surely be undone by the glitch), and all manner of survival gear. Then the moment arrived: the clocks turned from 11:59 on December 31, 1999, to 12:00 am, January 1, 2000. Fireworks exploded around the world, but the world’s electric grid and computer systems did not fail en masse. Miraculously, we all survived and continued. Thank goodness, and we still got to party.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is nothing to worry about, everything is fine, let’s continue to exploit, extract and plunder Earth like there is no tomorrow for our planet and ourselves. But, after reading some of the posts on Deep Adaptation, I have decided that I just cannot live life like an emergency is around every corner. I have also decided that my addiction to the daily news cycle is not only unhealthy, but in fact is poisonous.

Wise people throughout time have always known that there are really two main choices for how to live one’s life: through fear, or through love. Doomsaying and preparing for the end of life as we know it, at this stage, feels a lot like living through the fear lens. Living through the lens of love doesn’t mean one isn’t being smart, getting and giving support to others, finding creative ways to live with much less materiality, growing your own food if possible, stopping bad consumer habits, and protesting injustice. It means all those things, with the important addition of not focusing on the fear-induced What-if scenarios that seem to keep cropping up like weeds after a hard rain. We all know what a hard rain brings.

These are my rambling thoughts for tonight, dear Readers. This weekend was the celebration of Wesak, in which people around the world honor the Buddha’s birth, as well as all the venerated, ascended masters who have helped humanity over the eons of time. Humanity has been through so much in our long, extraordinary history. I may be an unrealistic idealist, but I am holding to the idea that we will make it through the coming decades, and society will change for the better. Change is inevitable, as is death. It is the nature of life on this planet. Let’s do what we can to stop fearing the future, and instead to imagine a more beautiful future world for our children, while doing the hard work of creating it.

Relentless Energies of Change

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The Munch bunch Photograph: John Keeble/Getty Images via The Guardian, March 24 2019

To borrow a phrase from the reporters at the New York Times, it’s been a busy couple of weeks–not only in politics, but in the world generally. The sound byte version: major floods of biblical proportions in Southeastern Africa that devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, taking hundreds, most likely thousands, of lives and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless; epic flooding in the United States’ Midwest as rains melted snow on top of frozen ground, causing rivers to swell and burst, and causing major highways in Nebraska to close; while major political upheaval continues with the UK’s Brexit impasse, prompting over a million protesters to march in London over the weekend demanding a new referendum vote.

Just before the close of business Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III delivered his report concerning the Trump administration’s alleged ties with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election campaign to Attorney General William Barr. On Sunday, Barr released his short synopsis of Mueller’s report to the American public. (NYTimes, March 24, 2019). His conclusion is that there is not sufficient evidence within the report to claim that Trump, or any of his aides, committed crimes. Barr wrote “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Barr continued his synopsis by explaining there were two parts of the investigation, and regarding the second part, he stated “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/us/politics/mueller-report-summary.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage)

Many readers of the New York Times commented on Sunday’s news, with the majority agreeing that while there seemed to not be enough evidence to begin impeachment proceedings, this debacle will continue under Congress in the months to come. Many commenters ended their words by exhorting readers to VOTE 2020.

The past two weeks have felt torrential—one tornado after hurricane after flood, both figuratively and literally. Part of me dreads next week’s news, and next month’s. Superlatives no longer hold much meaning, as the times we’re living through are a continuous stream of superstorms, supercorruption, superviolence, and generally a hyped-up version of everyday reality from what many of us were accustomed to for decades before this one. The relentless energies are exhausting and difficult to manage, prompting people to find any excuse to zone out, shut out, and get out of them in any way they can conceive to do it. Who can blame them? This level of reality is not for those who don’t have the mental and emotional endurance to withstand it.

I’ve been groping to find any shred of positivity within this hurricane of extremes. Toward that end, I pulled out my copy of Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (New World Library, 2012). Joanna Macy is that rare writer who can acknowledge the pain and struggles we experience as beings in human form on this planet, while also reminding us of the absolute wonder and joy of embodiment. In the chapter entitled Honoring Our Pain for the World, she writes,

We can exist in both realities at the same time—going about our normal lives in the mode of Business as Usual while also remaining painfully aware of the multifaceted crises unfolding around us….one way of dealing with the confusion and agony of this splitting is to push the crisis out of view….but this way of living is difficult to sustain, particularly as the condition of our world continues to worsen.

It is difficult even to talk about this….when we feel dread about what may lie ahead, outrage at what is happening to our planet, or sadness about what has already been lost, it is likely we have nowhere to take these feelings.

We can be caught between two fears—the fear of what will happen if we, as a society, continue the way we’re going and the fear of acknowledging how bad things are because of the despair that doing so brings up. (pg. 65)

Macy and Johnstone go on to describe a method of working with these feelings of despair, that she coined The Work that Reconnects. They write that a “central principle is that pain for the world, a phrase that covers a range of feelings including outrage, alarm, grief, guilt, dread and despair, is a normal, healthy response to a world in trauma.” (p. 67)

Macy and Johnstone have been offering workshops and the template to create groups around The Work That Reconnects for many years. They argue that when we allow ourselves to admit our deepest feelings about what’s happening in our world within a safe group, a space is created where a shift can happen. They write,

When we touch into our depths, we find that the pit is not bottomless. When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see and feel is happening to their world, a transformation occurs.

A range of factors acts together to bring about this shift. It is enlivening to go with, rather than against, the flow of our deep-felt responses to the world. Second, we feel tremendous relief on realizing our solidarity with others. (p. 70)

They describe the grief process developed y J. William Worden, including the stages of first accepting the loss and second, feeling the pain of grief. Macy writes, “each day we lose valuable parts of our biosphere as species become extinct and ecosystems destroyed—yet where is their funeral service? …we need to digest the bad news. That is what rouses us to respond.” (p. 71)

Right now it feels like more than a funeral service, but rather a global memorial is needed to honor all the sentient lives that are being lost with every passing week, month, and season. Our world is being swept away, destroyed and reformed into something different as we go about our lives, with one foot in each—the old world that’s dying, and the new one, forming under the very ground we are shakily standing on. Perhaps the best metaphor for our current state can be found in a remarkable story in this weekend’s Guardian. A Norwegian luxury liner found itself in big trouble as it ran into a section of very rough waters off the Norway coast. Huge waves rocked the ship, as its engines failed. The captain sent a mayday distress signal to the mainland, who responded by sending emergency rescue teams to take the guests off the ship to safety. This was a tricky and careful operation, involving smaller boats, several helicopters, and an entire team of rescuers. Eventually, the engines were restarted, and the luxury liner was escorted back out of the danger zone, and into a safe harbor farther south along the coast. The crew said that they were very close to a major disaster, had the liner run aground among rocks in the shallow coastal waters. Fortunately, the crew was able to prevent that from happening, and everyone got through the disaster alive, with few injuries. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/23/hundreds-evacuated-from-cruise-ship-off-norwegian-coast)

In a sea of dramatic and worse news stories, this story appears as a sign of hope. Yes, the people on board the ship were suddenly in a life-threatening situation. They, I assume, all experienced the profound fear of realizing their lives were at stake. They stared mortality in the face, in the middle of an otherwise lovely holiday on a cruise ship. By the end, they were saved from death and forever changed by the experience. And isn’t that what we are collectively experiencing together on our planet now? We are staring at the mortality, not only of uncountable numbers of species, but of coastlines, wetlands, forests, ice sheets, coral reefs, and myriad other natural formations that we’ve known for thousands of years. And we’re staring at our own possible mortality, if we can’t find the way to turn our ship around and get out of the danger zone we’ve created. We must all be willing to talk about it, as Joanna Macy points out. To talk and to acknowledge our fears, our grief, and our bafflement at our situation.

The fine line between self-deprecation and inflated egoism

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I have a friend who is a blogger. Since 2017 I’ve been reading her posts, and have witnessed her progressive changes on both inner and outer levels. When we met, she was a die-hard meditator working at a meditation retreat center on the west coast, trying hard to love it and fit in with the culture. But once we had a few deeper conversations, I understood on a gut level that she wasn’t happy there and didn’t truly fit the peculiar mold of human that could stay at a place like that for any length of time. Sure enough, only a couple months after I left, my friend quit her position, packed up her stuff, and headed southwards to the Bay area. There she hooked up with some people who offer year-long, esoteric apprenticeships for those who desire to meet and work with their wild shadow self through lots of time spent in nature, rituals and circle work. Throughout the year she blogged about her journey, experiences and the emotional rollercoaster she rode throughout.

My friend is a prolific and eloquent writer. She writes from the depths of her passionate soul, and isn’t afraid to be painfully honest in her posts. She’s great at self-deprecation and describing the hard edges of her lived experience, in an effort to give the reader the full expression of her deep and often sorrowful soul life. She’s also quite funny, often irreverent, and sometimes names the tender wounding within our common experience in a remarkable way. Now that she’s gone through her initiation year, she’s changing the focus of her blog to be a guide for those who also wish to venture out into the wild nature alone and unaided. This is admirable and useful information to offer readers. However, she also continues to write her honest-to-a-fault blog posts for her faithful followers. She asked me for feedback about her new direction recently, which got me pondering.

The crux of the dilemma my friend had, and which I think many bloggers also have, is finding the balance between not coming off sounding like an egotistical, arrogant know-it-all, and writing in a way that is so honest and authentic that one ends up disparaging oneself, sounding either depressed, confused, or simply the polar opposite of an expert on the subject. This is an issue in the field of blogging and of writing nonfiction generally. What can be done?

This question begs us to go back to the roots and ask, Why am I writing what I am writing? What is the purpose of this blog at its core? Am I in a position to be an “expert” on this topic? And if so, then just how honest about the whole process should I be? Where is the line between authenticity and loss of respect? Between expertise and arrogance? Between not enough information and too much? The other important thing to consider in all this is, Who is my audience? What are they interested in? Am I writing to please them and keep them coming back for more of my blog posts, or am I writing what I please and if they like it fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine too?

These are real questions that all writers who are serious about their craft (in this case, blog) need to be asking themselves. And it’s good to recognize that the answers are dynamic and will change as you change and evolve yourself as a writer over time. There are several factors to consider around having a blog, such as, is my ultimate goal to have a solid and high number of followers? Do I want to make money off the blog (monetize it), and if so, how and for what purpose? Am I mostly interested in the literary value of the work and wish to offer readers something of value and quality when they take the time to read a post? Or, is my blog mostly for entertainment, news, or a how-to type blog? Then, there’s the question of mission and vision: is my blog a way to promote my business venture, used as a marketing tool? Is my blog centered around a noble aim, like social, racial, or environmental justice? Is my blog a platform for my deeply and passionately held political views? Or do I have a particular cause I am promoting or wanting supported, such as animal rescue, human trafficking, criminal justice or educational reform?

I think it’s safe to assume that most people who take the time to build a blog, write posts, and work to get a following, do it because they feel what they have to say is important to some people. It’s far too easy to compare my blog to another’s and feel that mine is sorely lacking. If I write posts that I consider to be high-quality content, yet only twenty or fifty people read them, compared to thousands who may read a travel, food or sports blog, chances are good I will get discouraged. perhaps even giving up on writing eventually. Blogging is a numbers game, among its other dimensions.

We are living in a world that values material success above all. Our heroes are the people who have made it—they’re rich (obscenely so, usually), physically perfect, usually under 35, and mostly famous. Look online for bestselling nonfiction books, and nearly all of them will be stories of the people who made it in the world, in one form or another. Which is fine, I suppose, except that for me there’s something simply not REAL about all of that. Is the purpose of life, of living, really to get rich, stay thin, ripped, and sexy, and be able to buy your happiness and anything else you want on a whim? Or could it be that there is much more to being a human incarnated on the planet now, a larger story unfolding that we have yet to truly understand?

Back to my friend’s blogging story. She asked for my opinion, so I told her that it seems at odds to have a blog that simultaneously offers expert advice and techniques for wild nature solo adventures, and also tells her personal story of loneliness, anger, fear and sorrow, interspersed with humor and moments of joy and bliss. But I could be totally wrong about that. Readers, what do you think? When you follow someone’s blog, what are you hoping to get out of it? Do you want their expertise? Or their brutal honesty? Or something in-between? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, if you are willing to share with us here.