The Planet Needs You to Feel Its Pain
World collapse invites spiritual transformation (part two).
Photo by Joshua Brown on Unsplash
There's a famous scene in the movie The Matrix, where the hero is offered a choice. Take the blue pill and go back to sleep. Or take the red pill, and reality will never be the same.
You take the blue pill…the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill…you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. – The Matrix
I felt like I swallowed the red pill when I came across Dark Mountain and read the Uncivilization Manifesto. A great sense of relief washed over me. I found a group of people who lived beyond resistance against impending doom. Their premise is not: how can we stop the ecocide from destroying our future? Instead, the paradigm is: our civilization is fundamentally flawed and doomed; let's mourn all the beauty lost, together, in art. I felt a belonging: I found my tribe. Reading Deep Adaptation provided a similar experience. Thank God it's not me who is crazy; our society is. Radical acceptance feels surprisingly soothing.
The myth of progress has led us into the valley of death
World collapse not only haunts us individually. It is a fate we also need to face collectively. As a species, we have failed to adequately safeguard and cherish this precious planet that has been entrusted to us. As the dominant life form on Earth, we should be the loving stewards of all life on Earth. Instead, we have revealed ourselves to be a ruthless executioner.
How can we possibly bear the sadness of the great dying of the more-than-human? How can we face the guilt of being complicit in this crime? All those insects, birds, trees, ecosystems, ancient and now lost forever. We are executing a mass extinction, and now we're on the list ourselves. Merely participating in the systems that rule our world is an act of violence threatening our children and grandchildren's very lives. Because of how we live, they may not live at all or only live under great adversity. It's a suffocating, deranged state of affairs.
This grim result calls into question all of the social, technical, and economic systems we built in the name of progress – our whole society. It exposes the hollowness of the ideologies and creeds we profess to value. What is holy, if not life itself? We face a dark reckoning. And we must – face this darkness. We must bear the truth of what it is we have done. What we are doing. We must stop behaving like there is no tomorrow. The time of careless hedonism has ended. It has always ever been an exclusive party for the elite only. As a species, we are now confronted with the bill for excess. Either we grow up and clean up our act, or we die.
It's unclear if that is even possible – survival. The damage we've done is enormous, beyond repair. Our stubbornness, stupidity, and depravity seem endless. We must find ways to enact radical change, to heal both the world and our inner brokenness.
Healing can only begin when we allow ourselves to grieve for all the damage done.
Let the sorrows of the world pierce your heart
Our bodies instinctively remember our birthright: to be enfolded in the embrace of the natural world, the primal matrix–the matrix of life. In the absence of its nurture, we suffer. Cut off from the web of life, we feel disconnected from everything, including our true selves.
Our soul life flickers dimly, and rather than feeling a kinship with the entire, breathing world, we inhabit and defend a small shell of a world, occupying our daily life with what linguist David Hinton calls the "relentless industry of self." … We are suffering from what ecophilosopher Richard Louv calls nature deficit disorder. – Francis Weller, The Edge of Sorrow.
The dying of the world causes us to feel a sadness that is not personal; it is shared, communal. At a very primal level, we are intertwined with all of life. The great dying affects us directly, intimately, inexorably. We suffer with the world.
What we feel from the surrounding world is not a projection of our own minds outward to the environment … it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches–the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owl, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings. – Francis Weller, The Edge of Sorrow.
Through this grief, we directly experience the weeping of the world's soul, the anima mundi. We are haunted by the specter of what we had and loved and lost.
"The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered." – Paul Shepard, quoted in Francis Weller, The Edge of Sorrow.
To change, we need to allow this grief for the world to tear us apart.
To rediscover life, we have to face death
We feel lost, empty, and depressed because we have cut ourselves off from the nurturing embrace of the web of life. We are all complicit in killing the very life we so dearly miss on an industrial, planetary scale. We are caught in a vicious cycle. We are bereft of nature and meaningful connections. We numb our loneliness and existential angst with screen time and the pursuit of material comforts. In doing so, we exacerbate both our nature deficit, and the rents torn in the web of life.
The remedy is not to numb our grief; the cure is in embracing our grief.
By fully opening our hearts and allowing ourselves to feel the world's sorrow, we find something beyond the void. We have to let go of who we thought we are, who we thought we wanted to be. This starts with an effort to come to terms with the suffocating blanket of cognitive dissonance, accompanying every routine act of consumption and indulgence that makes us complicit in the ecocide. All change starts with awareness. Being aware that this way of life won't last, challenges inner assumptions of entitlement to a certain standard of living.
That may sound pretty grim, but there are unexpected upsides too. Increased gratitude, for one. The laptop I'm typing this on perhaps involved shady mining operations and nasty labor conditions, but isn't it a miracle that I'm allowed to use it while I can? A heightened sense of being enmeshed with everything and every one is another upside. The myriad complex supply chains that make us complicit in environmental degradation, also connect us with the Amazon, the oceans, the Earth, and the people our current reality depends upon.
Accepting and expressing our grief and guilt, changes us; it heals the very alienation that is the root cause of our suffering and despair. We find ourselves mourning the vitality lost, yet in doing so, we feel the vibrancy of our intimate interdependency and kinship with all of life. The sadness does not go away; it becomes a gateway towards reconnecting with life and creating new meaning.
We are presented with a Buddhist paradox. A frantic fear of death has enclosed us in a death cult, yet facing death restores our connection to life.
This the second half of a two-part story on world collapse. Part one looked at the individual experience of coming to terms with traumatic change.