A space for conversations in a time of global disruption
Evidently, the only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.
For most individuals who are aware of and preparing for the collapse of industrial civilization, the notion of a convergence of crises in the current milieu-Peak Oil, climate change, economic meltdown, species extinction, and overpopulation, is not new information. They know that never before in recorded history has the human race been confronted with the web of crises it is now facing. What they didn't anticipate, however, is that when sharing their bursts of enlightenment with spouses, friends, children, or parents they would increasingly be perceived by their loved ones as something akin to psychotic alien life forms. What they had hoped for instead is that their dear ones would be willing to investigate the same topics they had so carefully researched and would join them in preparing to navigate a daunting future.
These days, wherever I speak or conduct a public event, and whenever I check my inbox for email, I hear similar stories of conflict or estrangement in the lives of courageous men and women who have chosen to dig deeper into the state of the macrocosm, only vaguely aware of what it might bring forth within the microcosm of their own lives. Onerous it is to be preparing for the future-contemplating and acting on the weighty issues of where to live, how to earn a livelihood, what skills to learn, and how best to fortify oneself for survival in an unraveling world, but it is nothing like having loved ones distancing or parting ways when one wants and needs them now more than ever.
Sometimes it's about fear for the well being of loved ones; sometimes it's about wanting to share something as momentous as collapse and transition with our best friend who also happens to be our beloved. Sometimes it's about wanting to be validated, heard, and seen. Maybe it's just about wanting help with the extensive, arduous tasks of preparation. But sadly, perhaps tragically, in countless instances, the kind of joining for which our hearts desperately yearn cannot happen-for whatever reason. That doesn't make our loved ones sick, bad, crazy, or stupid, but it does mean that we have reached a threshold in our relationship with them that will result in distance, perhaps permanent estrangement.
How do we cope with this? After all, isn't human connection the larger hope we hold for this transition? Isn't that what's it's all about?
Nothing I could say would make this easy, but perhaps the pain can be tempered with a larger perspective.
First, we need to remind ourselves that in the milieu of industrial civilization, we have all been thoroughly indoctrinated in the "necessity" of romantic partnership. If by a certain age we don't have a partner or have lost too many of them, we are deemed terminally defective. This is, like it or not, particularly true for women.
Furthermore, facing the future alone is frightening, and again, I believe this is especially true for women. Wouldn't it be nice, we think, to go through the transition with a partner or with all of our family members? We'd be safer, and so would they. And what a bond we could forge with each other, holding each others' hands at the end of the world as we have known it and working together to create a new one!
Yet I am becoming increasingly convinced that the transition we are heading into is going to change everything, and I mean everything. Far beyond the amount of oil we use, electricity we have available, food we grow, or skills we learn, if we survive physically, we will be transformed, re-made, and utterly metamorphosed at our core. In fact, this process challenges us, I believe, to become a new kind of human being. Can this happen if we are surrounded by exactly the people we would like to be surrounded by? Perhaps-and then again, perhaps not.
What is certain is that we cannot navigate collapse and transition alone; we must have allies, but it may be that we do not get to choose entirely who those allies are. Our most intimate companions may be strangers we barely know, and our strongest adversaries may be people we thought we could always rely on.
What I'm referring to here is the non-rational, soul level of transition that is beyond our control or reasoning or planning. It has to do with doing what we have come here to do and fulfilling a greater purpose-one that may be only dimly visible to us now. This may require joining with people we do not even yet know and parting with those who cannot walk where we feel compelled to journey.
Not for one moment would I minimize the grief many people are walking through as they find loved ones distancing from or leaving them. The loss is heart-wrenching, and it must be felt.
All of this is part of the burden of letting ourselves know what is so. Truth is no free lunch; it always exacts a price. Small wonder then that the overwhelming majority of humanity has no interest in knowing it. And really, why would anyone sign up for knowing the exact state of our planet? As my friend Mike Ruppert says, it really is much easier on a sinking Titanic to state unequivocally that the ship is unsinkable or to saunter into the bar and order a drink.
In a chaotic world of endings, unraveling, catastrophe, or protracted demise, relationship will be a pivotal issue. For this reason, the survivalist mentality which purports to "go it alone" with an "every man for himself" attitude, not only will not serve those who embrace it, but will profoundly put their physical survival at risk. For our well being, we will absolutely require connection with other human beings in times of chaos and crisis. Therefore, cultivating a broader perspective of relationship in advance of the coming chaos may be exceedingly useful in learning how to navigate relationship challenges in the future-challenges on which our survival may depend.
In today's affluent milieu of social networking, fitness and body obsession, tanning salons, fine dining and dance clubbing, the roles that civilization has proscribed for men and women are maintained and nurtured impeccably. In navigating the dating scene in an effort to secure a partner, men generally prefer to present themselves as well-groomed, sensitive gentlemen, and women typically project intelligence and self-sufficiency alongside beauty and sexual prowess. The protocol for relationships between the genders is civil and respectful. But imagine a world in chaos where projecting the current popular persona of one's gender is rendered irrelevant or even dangerous. Stereotypes and the roles we consent to play will no longer serve us because in that world, survival will be paramount.
For this reason, it behooves anyone consciously preparing emotionally and spiritually for a chaotic future to forge strong relationships with friends, neighbors, and family members. In fact, I believe it is wise to consider all of the relationships we have in our lives as sacred in that they are venues for learning about and cultivating our inner world. Even more importantly, they are opportunities for serving the earth community with whom we are inextricably connected by living out our purpose. In this way we begin to understand the relationships in our lives as part of our preparation for the future because they are as essential for our inevitable well being as food, water, shelter, or weapons. In fact, they may constitute the ultimate advantage.
And if relationships are part of our preparation for the future, we will need to forge ones that are mutually supportive and sustainable. We will need to deeply evaluate our relationships and ponder which ones enhance our preparation and which ones do not. While this may sound heartless, we have only to recall the familiar example of the airline flight attendant who admonishes us to first put on our oxygen masks before putting them on our loved ones.
As we allow ourselves to be schooled by our relationships, we recognize places where we have fallen short of how we prefer to relate to another, places where we have transgressed boundaries, failed to be present, subtly or blatantly abandoned others, failed to speak our truth, or perhaps, spoken our truth so forcefully and insensitively that we have inadvertently hurt the very ones we care about deeply. From our errors we can learn how we need to be in relationship and increasingly glimpse the momentousness of our connection with every person in our world. Quite naturally we may entertain the notion that people are in our lives and we are in theirs for specific purposes, and though we may never know the totality of the purpose, from hindsight we gradually understand that some purpose was served.
Not only must we, in my opinion, contemplate relationships between ourselves and other humans, but between ourselves and everything in our lives, for the truth is that we have a relationship with our homes, our possessions, our pets, our careers, our roles, our communities, our neighbors, our past, our present, and our future. If we are willing to consciously examine each of those relationships in terms of the purpose they serve in our lives, we participate in a deeper evaluation of them and thereby clarify their place in our lives. As a result, we counteract a tendency to wed our identity to people, places, and things while paradoxically making it possible to cherish them more because we are more keenly aware of their purpose in our lives. Likewise, this deep evaluation may precipitate a natural letting go of those things in our lives which drain our energy or finances or which make our lives more complicated and less resilient at a time in human history when survival depends on simplicity and the ability to adapt.
Stripped of that to which we have wedded our identity, collapse and transition will compel us to confront questions of purpose on a regular basis, perhaps hourly-perhaps moment to moment. We are likely to find ourselves contemplating every meaningful relationship in our lives, and many that seem devoid of meaning. Relating to diverse human beings and their idiosyncrasies, even depending for survival on individuals we may never have encountered in a less chaotic world, could become our new normal.
Schooled as we are to grapple with the tangible, logistic aspects of the "End of Suburbia" such as being forced to downscale everything we do as a result of Peak Oil, we may have failed to notice that the collapse of industrial civilization will produce not only an outer transition but an inner one as well. Are we preparing for the inner transition to the same extent that we are preparing for the outer one? The relationships in our lives may be the first, but not the last, arena of our lives that compels us to address inner preparation.
Poetry, the language of soul, often captures meaning more aptly than rational, linear prose. The Spanish poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez, in his poem "Oceans" captures best the distress, as well as the possibility that unwanted losses offer us even as we agonize through them:
I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck, down there in the depths,
Against a great thing.
And nothing happens!
Nothing, silence, waves
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
And we are standing now, quietly, in the new life?
Portions of this article are excerpted from Carolyn Baker's forthcoming book Navigating The Coming Chaos: Tools For Inner Transition.
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