The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Celebrating Thay and Interbeing

One of the world’s most respected and revered teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, this week celebrates his 95th Continuation Year.

Born in 1926, Thay (as he is affectionately known) trained as a Buddhist monk in Vietnam. He became actively engaged in seeking peace in that war-ravaged country early on in his life. That experience enabled him to coin the term Engaged Buddhism and develop the ideas of a Buddhist life that not removed from the world and its sufferings.

In 1966 Thich Nhat Hanh created the Order of Interbeing – an international community of Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople. The term interbeing has come to be associated closely with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. The English word – interbeing – is an attempt to translate the Vietnamese term tiep hien. Tiep means in touch with, and hien can be translated as realising or making it here and now.

Interbeing then, can be thought of as the interconnectedness of all things.

For most of his later life, Thich Nhat Hanh lived in the southwest of France in Plum Village Monastery, which he and another Vietnamese monk, Chan Khong, founded in 1982.

In late 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam to spend his remaining days at his ‘root temple’ near the city of Hue in central Vietnam.

A Meditation/Poem for Thay

I offer here, a short meditation/poem in celebration of, and dedicated to, Thay. I have called it:

“Thay and Interbeing.”

Standing, I feel the earth’s support

Sitting, I rest in peace

Kneeling, I thank the trees and birds

Lying, I wonder at the clouds

Breathing, I inhale the breath of life

Taste the air, smell the flowers

Touch the earth, hear the wind

See the world as a whole

I inter-am

I live because you all give.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Spirit of Nature, Nature of Spirit

Photo: Solveig Larsen.
Hint: Flip photo 90degs
What do we mean when we speak of spirituality? To some it has a very specific meaning, often related to a particular religion. To others it connotes something mystical, yet not theistic.

I use the term spirituality occasionally within this blog, so it is useful for me to clarify how I use the term.

First, spirituality is not synonymous with religion. Since the 14th century the word ‘religion’ has come to mean a system of faith in, and worship of, a divine being (or beings.) Most religions (especially those that posit a Supreme Being (call this God if you like), seek and find spirit predominantly in a transcendent manner.

The word ‘spirituality’ is related to our breath (cf. inspire, respire) and thus can be thought of as meaning ‘the breath of life.’ Therein is a clue to a more complete understanding of spirituality. When we breath, we breath in, and we breath out. We take in, we give out. Breathing is an inward and an outward process. This is as true for spirituality as it is for breathing.

Transcendence is the outward aspect of spirituality. Inscendence is the inward aspect.1 Transcendence seeks connection with a one-ness (whole-ness) that is more than the individual self. Inscendence, on the other hand, is a deep exploration of our soul.2 It is a discovery of other-than-self that is unique to each of us.

Transcendence gazes heavenward, outside of ourselves. Inscendence plants our feet firmly upon, and in, the earth.

Both are needed. Neither is complete without the other. They are like trees. The topmost branches are continually seeking the light, growing towards the over-arching sky. The leaves in the canopy gain energy from the abundant sunlight. Meanwhile, the roots of the tree delve deep into the fecund and dark soil, gaining nourishment from the nutrients therein.

Our true spirituality is that tree: seeking sunlight and planting firm, stable, roots in the soil.

The insights available to us from this simple metaphor are those that many mystics, ‘teachers,’ gurus, philosophers, and more latterly, eco-psychologists, have been exploring for centuries.

Sadly, many within western-styled cultures never gain these insights. Many continue to live within what Bill Plotkin3 terms the middleworld (not to be confused with middle-earth of ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame.)

Inhabitants of middleworld neither seek transcendence, nor discover inscendence. A completely middleworld existence is one remaining trapped within a materialistic world that has many facets – some quite contradictory. Most importantly, irrespective of the particular brand of materialism, middleworld is disconnected from nature. This may be overt through a deliberate exploitation of nature, or it may be neglectful of the harm done to nature by an anthropocentric understanding of the world and the place of humans within it.

Such disconnect fails to comprehend the spirit of nature.

Of the two aspects of spirituality (transcendence and inscendence) the easiest to aspire to (or seek, or hope for, or discover) is transcendence. Gazing upward and seeking the light seems an innate thing to do. Some religions even call it ‘enlightenment.’ It is also a comfortable, and comforting, thing to do.

Going the other way, towards inscendence, however, seems counter-intuitive. Why would someone deliberately seek the darkness? For centuries we have been told that the darkness is where demons, dragons, ghouls, and witches, live. Not a place for ‘good’ boys and girls to visit.

Yet, it is the deep, dark, abode of demons that may be precisely where we need to travel to. It is a journey that many of our most enduring, and perceptive, mythologies speak of. From Beowulf to George and the Dragon, from the descent of Inanna to the underworld to the modern story of the Phantom of the Opera, our fables and myths speak of the hero or heroine descending into dark places, there to confront, and mostly overcome, their personal demons.

It is also why many of our most revered spiritual masters and teachers have gone on solitary journeys, to seek their unique, soul-infused, purpose. Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi tree for forty-nine days. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and nights. Muhammed meditated in a cave high in the mountains. Confucius shut himself away for three years.

Nature-based societies also recognise the importance of solitude and experiencing the darkness with many rituals and ‘rites of passage’ being steeped in such practice.

Our spirituality is bound up with nature. Our nature is spiritual. We are as much spiritual beings as we are natural beings. We are in and of the earth. Our feet keep us grounded. Our eyes enable us to look outward.

Notes:

1. The cultural historian and student of the world’s religions, Thomas Berry, describes inscendence as a descent into our pre-rational, our instinctive, resources.’ in his 1988 book, Dream of the Earth. He goes on to state that the world needs our inscendence far more than it needs our transcendence at this time.

2. Soul – another word that requires further explanation and exploration. For another time.

3. Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Wyrd: Against the Modern World - Book Review

Wyrd1 – a weird title isn’t it?  Wyrd and Weird are connected.  Sadly, the modern English word weird has had almost all its meaning and sacredness washed out of it.  Ramon Elani, however, in this delightful short book, is certainly not about to sanitise or camouflage the meaning of wyrd.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word that comes to us via Old Norse. It is related to the Norse word urðr, a personification of one of the Norns – Old Norse deities responsible for shaping the course of human destinies.

Like many such rich and verdant words, wyrd can be thought of in a number of ways. It can be thought of as a process of becoming or unfolding. Perhaps as that which is ordained, or that which must happen. Concepts of rotation and debt are also imbued within its richness. Wyrd is in a state of constant flux.

The concepts and ideas found within wyrd are akin to those found within the Eastern yin/yang idea, and amongst the myths and cosmologies of indigenous cultures throughout the world.

It is a word that reminds those of us from western backgrounds that we too, once had a similar understanding of our place in nature and the cosmos. We too, once recognised patterns and relationships as much more important, and real, than material things and a straight-forward cause-effect linearity. In many ways, western science is only now beginning to re-establish such notions, especially via quantum physics and the mathematics of Chaos Theory.

Ramon Elani elegantly, poetically, and enchantingly, reminds us in his book of this once-was understanding, and pleads with us (modern) western humans to re-discover the sacred of the world.

The subtitle of the book – Against the Modern World – is pertinent. Elani claims that we have desacralized the world to such an extent through the modernity project, that we are now trapped within a number of illusions of our own making: the illusion of progress, the illusion of control, the illusion of technology, the illusion of human superiority…

Ramon Elani is a poet, an author, and a professor of literature and philosophy. He is particularly interested in the intersection between ecology and spirituality.

His interest in ecology and spirituality leads him to conclude in this book that “(modern) humanity has “killed the last god” and climate change represents the full consequences of this act.” In killing off the last god (and goddess) we have also killed off the last demon.

In this killing spree, what is left? Humanity has usurped the role of god and goddess, and become our own demons. Climate change is a result. Elani claims that climate change cannot be healed by “profane means.” Furthermore, he suggests, “the world cannot be fixed, it can only be destroyed and created anew.”

For Elani, creating anew must be achieved through a re-sacralisation of the world, a recognition of our (human) place in the world. Our salvation, Elani notes:

“…depends on our ability to abandon ourselves to the power, flux, and beauty of nature.”

Wyrd is available from https://www.nightforestpress.com/

Note:

1. Ramon Elani, Wyrd: Against the Modern World, Night Forest Press, Canada, 2021.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Illiteracy of Nonviolence (updated)


Recently (late September 2021) the Prime Minister of Australia announced a new alliance (AUKUS - Australia, U.K., US) that would see Australia acquiring a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.  I was reminded of a post I wrote many years ago about the illiteracy of peace.  A high percentage of our literature is devoted to war-making and only a small percentage to peace-making.  


I thought I would re-post that post now.  One of the bookshops mentioned in this post has since closed down. However, another chain bookseller has arrived, so there are still two main bookshops where I live. I did a quick re-count before posting this. The total numbers have changed slightly, but the proportions have not.

Illiteracy of Nonviolence

How peacefully literate are we?  Listening to a recent talk by Stuart Rees1 prompted me to ponder this question.  Stuart Rees had suggested that our literacy of peace was almost non-existent, whereas in matters of war and armed conflict we are extremely literate.

I decided to check.  Where I live there are just two main bookshops.  One is a low-price, middle-of-the-road bookstore, the other is one of the major bookseller chains.

In the first, I counted 113 different books with the theme of war or armed conflict.  There were just four (4) books that could be related to nonviolent means of conflict resolution.  Three were biographies of Nelson Mandela’s life and one was by the Nobel Peace Laureate, Thich Nhat Hanh.

The other bookstore had just one book that I could find that spoke of peace or non-aggressive means of resolving conflict.  Waging Peace is the memoir of a remarkable Australian journalist, social commentator and film-maker.  Anne Deveson wrote the book because:
“…when I went to London in July 2000 to attend a big international conference on War and Peace and I found all the emphasis was on war, rather than peace. In the section where books and articles were on sale, 111 titles were on war, only three on peace.”2
In that bookshop that stocked the one solitary copy of her book there were no less than 81 books (many that had multiple copies) dealing with war and violence.

If that is representative of what is written and what is read, then what chance is there of those leading our nations obtaining a literacy of nonviolence?

Yet, there are a number of examples of nonviolent approaches to conflict.  Additional to those mentioned above we can think of: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Te Whiti o Rongomai, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell and the anonymous “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square.  Before too long we have to do some serious thinking in order to add to the list.

These practitioners and prophets of nonviolent conflict resolution are remembered as much for the fact that there are few of them, as much as for their wisdom and compassion.  They are part of the small number of candles burning in a dark cave of warfare, terrorism and violence.

Tellingly, when asked to think of those associated with warfare then many names spring to mind: Hitler, Churchill, General Patton, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Osama bin Laden, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush (both of them), Mugabe, Idi Amin, Milosevic, Tito, Mussolini, George Custer, Ho Chi Minh, Tony Blair…..  Adding to this list does not take too much intellectual effort.  There are dozens of biographies of each of these adding substantially to the literature of armed conflict.

So where do we go to find the literacy of nonviolence?  I have a number of such books in my collection.  Few of them, though, were found in the average bookshop.  Often they have been sought from specialist bookshops or via determined Internet searches on Amazon and the like.

The other source of nonviolent literacy seems to be in the experiences, writings and learnings of parenting courses, small scale activist groups, mentoring organisations and other community based programmes and projects.  The wonderful insights and learnings from these and other groups do not yet seem to be translating into the mindsets of national leaders.

1. Stuart Rees is the Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.
2. In answer to an interview question from Stephanie Dowrick (co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club) who asked: Was there any particular moment in which you knew, "I have to write this"?

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Earth - Our Humble Home

When our ancestors sat around an open fire at night, after the communal meal was over, I imagine they told stories. I further imagine that for many of those stories they had to invent new words. I assume that these new words were not simply a jumble of random, different, sounds. They would have had relationships to other words. There would have been embedded meanings within the new words, so that those listening could imagine the roots of the words, and hence gain an idea of the new word and the concepts it tried to express.

As the millennia passed, and language evolved, we have forgotten those fireside stories. We have forgotten the relationships between words. Hence, we have also forgotten the nuances and the depth of meaning of many words.

In that forgetting, and loss, we may have also lost our relationship to the earth, to nature, and to one another.

Yet, the shadows of those relationships still exist in our (English) language. If we trace back the derivation of words, we can find those early connections and relationships.

When we find those relationships, we can superficially say to ourselves: “oh, that’s interesting.” Or, we could be drawn into a deeper understanding of our human relationship with the earth. An understanding that our ancestors had.

One of those significant Proto-Indo-European (PIE) words is dhghem. It means earth.

From this root word we get our modern human, as well as words such as humus, humble, humility, and humane.

Around that ancient fireside I can imagine people constructing language and, almost absently, linking the words (and concepts) of human and humus. When they did so, I imagine there was little, if any dispute. In fact, I imagine, those listening would have thought: yes of course, we (humans) are of the humus (earth.)

Following on, I imagine, there may have been further dialogue in which the connections between humans and the earth were broadened and expanded. Someone around that fireside may have conjured up an entire story based on how the first human was created from the earth. Others may have added embellishments or even other words. Perhaps someone suggested the word humble to describe how humans were grateful for their home in the earth.

Indeed, the Hebrews did just that. The first human, within the Hebrew tradition, was called Adam, deriving from the Hebrew word for groundadamah.

Later on, many many firesides later, the Swede, Carl Linnaeus, coined the binomial term homo sapiens to describe our species. Linnaeus retained the connection to the earth through the term homo which has connections with the word homunculus, or little person, often one who lived in the ground – an earthling.

If we were to sit around a fireside today, and if we were to bring our attention to what it means to be human, and if we were open to listening to the connections that our ancestors made, then we might find we gain a completely new awareness of our home. We might then begin to tell a different story of what it means to live in this home.

We are, quite literally, people of the earth. We are all earthlings.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Transport Reflections

This morning I was cycling with my neighbour on a route we take often, but had not ridden for a couple of weeks. At that time of day (5.30 – 7.00 am) we occasionally meet other people out walking, either alone or with one other person. Sometimes these early morning walkers have a dog with them. We have begun to recognise familiar faces.

This morning as we cycled up a hill, we encountered a woman and her dog walking down the hill. As we passed, we called out a greeting. Her response was: ‘Lovely to see you back again.’

I remarked to my neighbour that the greeting was lovely to hear. The woman with her dog had obviously seen us before and remembered us. She had also, clearly, noticed that we had been absent for a few weeks.

It got me thinking and reflecting upon the nature of transport.

Would the same interaction have occurred if the woman was driving her car, and we were also in a car, travelling in the opposite direction?

No, it would not have.

Culturally, we have become addicted, and dependent upon, travelling faster, easier, and more comfortably. We tell ourselves that this is necessary. We have to get to work. We have to get the kids to school. We have to do the weekly grocery shopping. We have to go to the movies, or a restaurant, or to some other entertainment venue.

And, doing all that, what do we do?

We enclose ourselves in a metal and plastic vehicle weighing anywhere from one tonne to more than two tonnes. It is totally enclosed. The world is shut out, and we are shut in.

We travel at speed. We travel with ease; all we need do is steer and press our foot on the accelerator. We travel in comfort; the seats are cushioned, the music (or audiobook) comes to us from well positioned speakers.

We interact with no-one - unless there are others in the vehicle. We do not hear the birds singing, we do not hear the leaves in the trees rustling. We often don’t even see the landscape through which we are passing.

Weak Ties

I notice it time and time again though, that when walking or cycling, the opportunity for small interactions - a friendly wave, a smile, a greeting - arise continuously. Researchers have labelled these interactions and relationships as weak ties.

Such small and brief relationships are not what we commonly think of when we think of community or friendship, or even acquaintanceships. They do not loom large in our thinking when it comes to how we conceive of our sense of belonging.

Yet, these weak ties can be just as important as the strong ties in our lives, and in our sense of community and belonging. Some pioneering research in 20131 suggested that “…seemingly trivial social experiences can shape belonging and well-being in the real world.”

Last week’s blog suggested we let go.

This week’s blog suggests we slow down, stop looking for the easy solution, and get out of our comfortable vehicles.

This week’s blog suggests we start walking or cycling. We might find the small, weak, interactions that we have along the way bring us a greater sense of belonging and well-being.

As a bonus, we would be doing the environment a great benefit.

Note:

1. Gillian M Sandstrom and Elizabeth W Dunn, Is Efficiency Overrated? Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect, in Social Psychology and Personality Science, September 2013.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Let Go

Perhaps it is time to let go.

In our western cultural tradition, we have been hanging on for a very long time. Should we just let go?

Let go our hopes. Let go our dreams. Let go our desires.

Perhaps it is time to let go of all our striving?  Let go of our striving to climb ever higher. Let go of our striving for enlightenment and perfection.

Is it time to let go of our cultural imperatives towards progress and improvement?

And the biggy. Should we let go our desire for control?

Has our striving for the next best thing brought us greater joy, happiness and/or love?

Instead of seeking more and more, perhaps we could allow ourselves to become immersed in less and less?

Maybe we could gain some insight as to how to let go from the sages of the East.

One of Buddha’s great insights and contribution to the world was his recognition that all suffering (also translated as discontent, dissatisfaction, or dis-ease) is because of either attachment or aversion.

When we become attached to something (whether it be a physical object, an ideology, or a dream) we inevitably will feel discontent. The trick, according to Buddhism, is to hold our desires and wants lightly.  To not grasp and hold them so tightly that we become stressed and anxious.

Grasping tightly is almost synonymous with wishing to control. We attempt to control our environment, our surroundings, and even ourselves, by creating boundaries, and grasping at false certainties. Nothing in this world is certain. Yet, our wish for certainty keeps us bottled up, and held together in a tight embrace. Ironically, the more we try to tighten that grip, the more we shut our experiences of love, beauty, freedom, happiness, and joy.

Another useful contribution from the East helping us to let go is the Confucian and Taoist concept of wu wei. Wu wei could be described as the “action of inaction.” To our western ears such an idea may sound nonsensical. It must be remembered, however, that we in the west have been imbued with the idea of linear causality. A causes B which in turn, causes C. Eastern (and a lot of indigenous) thinking recognises more circular and co-dependent causal effects.

Wu wei recognises this and suggests that our natural state is to align ourselves within the harmony of nature. To not fight against nature or the universe, but rather, to flow with it.

In our current state of the world, could any of these concepts be of use? Either personally or collectively?

I leave the reader to ponder this.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Our Second Biggest Threat

Will the human race survive the Anthropocene Extinction – the sixth mass extinction?  It’s debatable.  And, what threatens our chances of survival?  This blog names our second biggest threat.

Covid?  The current (this blog written in August 2021) pandemic sweeping the world may or may not be the precursor to other more virulent pandemics to come.

No, covid is not our second biggest threat.

Climate chaos then?  We know the world is getting warmer.  We know that our human produced carbon emissions are a large part of that warming.  We know this warming is causing climate chaos.  We know this will almost certainly worsen.

No, not even climate chaos is our second biggest threat.

Perhaps ecological overshoot?  We know we have been extracting more and more from the earth, and producing more and more waste and pollution.  We know that since the early 1970s the earth has not been able to keep up with our ecological demand.  Our ecological footprint massively exceeds the earths biocapacity.

No, ecological overshoot is not our second biggest threat.

Our second biggest threat is our increasing polarization, and, along with it, our seemingly diminishing ability to communicate with one another.

This current covid pandemic is a glaring example of our inability to engage with one another in mutually respectful, and creative ways.  Take a look at social media posts about covid.  Two primary ‘camps’ seem to have formed.1  In one camp are those who say we must all wear masks, get a vaccine, accede to lock-downs.  The other camp comprises those who say all the restrictions threaten individual rights, and that the vaccines are dangerous.

Each camp has its adherents who are prepared to hurl abuse at those in the other camp.  Each camp has those who label the other camp followers as ‘idiots,’ ‘uneducated ignoramuses,’ or worse epithets.  Each camp claims that the other does not know what they are talking about.  Each camp accuses the other of not doing their research.

In short, each camp has proponents who are unwilling to engage with the other.

That is the threat.

If we are unable to engage with each other, without descending into name-calling and judgemental accusations, then there is very little chance that we can find any passage through the threats of climate change and ecological overshoot.  And, without that ability to engage with one another, we will not survive the Anthropocene Extinction.

The inability to engage with one another, though, is itself a symptom of the second biggest threat.

Polarization.

Again, covid is a very good marker of this trend to further and further polarization.  Each of the camps referred to above seem to be becoming further and further entrenched in their own ‘truth story.’  Each seem to be retreating into an echo chamber, wherein those who disagree are kept outside (defriended on facebook for example) and more and more evidence for their viewpoint can be found within the echo chamber.

Covid is only the latest example of this increasing polarization.  In a disturbing piece of research published in 2015, researchers in the U.S. tracked the level of cooperation, or lack thereof, between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1949 and 2012.  The results (see diagram) are revealing.2  Polarization has been increasing during those sixty plus years. Democrats are in blue, Republicans in red.


Of course, it could be argued that the U.S. House of Representatives does not represent the state of the world.  That is true, but only to an extent.  Our political systems often reflect the situation within the electorate, and/or tend to guide that level of political/social discourse within the electorate.  Furthermore, we know that the U.S. has a huge influence upon the culture of the western world.

Furthermore, we have established infrastructure that exacerbates, even thrives on, polarization.  Our parliamentary and legal systems, in particular, are structured on adversarial lines.  These are recipes for polarization.

Sadly, there is no way we can negotiate our way through covid, climate chaos, or ecological overshoot, if we remain trapped within echo chambers, especially echo chambers that we are adding more and more soundproofing to.

That is why polarization is our second biggest threat.

Our Biggest Threat?

You may be wondering what I consider our biggest threat to be?

Polarization is an inevitable outcome of a disconnect from one another.  When we view humanity in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ then we have begun the slippery slide towards polarization.

Our disconnect from one another is itself constructed on an even more fundamental disconnection.

Our disconnection from nature.

This is our biggest threat.  Yet, it is a threat we hardly even see, let alone acknowledge.  Starting with our disconnect from nature we easily slide into a disconnection from one another, and further still – a disconnection from our own selves (I prefer the term ‘soul’). 

When that happens, we find ourselves on a slide that ends with toxic individuality – the ultimate disconnect, and the ultimate polarization.

Is there a way to recover?  Is there a way to reconnect?  Is there a way to step out of our echo-chambers?  Is there a way to rediscover our souls?

Is there a way to survive?

Notes:

1. Presently it does appear that each of these ‘camps’ constitute only a small segment of the population.  Most people seem to be placing themselves outside of either camp.  How long that will last is unknowable.

2. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0123507 Accessed 25 August 2021

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Existential Grief and Mourning (Part 4)

Painting: Teodor Axentowicz "Hutsul Funeral"
In the past three blogpieces (here, here, and here) I have delved into the five stages of
Grief, with especial reference to Existential Collapse. In this concluding piece I consider the emotional response of Mourning.

Existential Collapse is incomprehensible. Existential Collapse is unheard of. We have never been here before. We have no blueprints. We have no roadmap with which to navigate our way.

However, if we get over denial, and then manage our way through three stages of grief (anger, bargaining, depression) then we may arrive at Acceptance.

In that state of Acceptance we can truly Mourn.

(Before moving on, let me make an important distinction. Mourning is not depression. Mourning is not melancholia. Mourning is not sadness, nor is it sorrow.)

Mourning is like the soft woollen cloak that wraps around us and holds in the warmth of a deep love.

Tracing the etymology of mourning is illuminating. It has Old Germanic and Old Nordic roots; roots that also give us words like memory, commemorate, and remember. So, when we mourn, we remember something.

When we think of mourners we think of those (as in the painting above) following a coffin. These followers (mourners) have lost someone, and in their following, are remembering that loved one.

Thus, we could define mourning as “remembering our love for someone, or something, that has been lost, or is about to be lost.”

It is this love, and the memory of love, that sets mourning apart from melancholia and depression. You could say that mourning is a remembering of joy, beauty, love, and connection.

Mourning, in the context of Existential Collapse, is remembering the beauty of nature. It is remembering our connection with the enormity and totality of life. It is remembering our place. It is remembering that we are all derived from, and owe our very existence to, Mother Earth.

Mourning and Acceptance are two aspects of the same understanding. Both recognise that whatever we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. When we treat the Earth with disdain, we lose our connection and humanity.

When we treat the Earth as part of us, we can remember beauty, joy, and love.

We are losing that Earth. Or, at least, we are losing our part of that Earth. And for that, we can mourn, we can remember.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Existential Grief and Mourning (Part 3)

The previous two blogposts (here and here) have briefly assessed three of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining) in terms of Existential Collapse. This blogpost looks at the other two stages – depression and acceptance.

Depression

We live in a world where we want to fix things. If its broke – fix it! If it ain’t broke – still, fix it! You could say we are fixated on fixing things. The same is true of depression. Depression must be fixed.

But, in a time of grief, depression is a natural response to loss. Indeed, when facing Existential Collapse – the ultimate loss – depression may be a vital part of the grieving process; a “must-see” stop off point on the grieving journey.

Yet, there is much fear around depression, sadness, and despair. This fear leads to a reluctance to talk about Existential Collapse. “Don’t talk about it. Don’t got there – you’ll only get depressed.”

Sounds like denial, doesn’t it? Depression – a necessary stage in the grief process – is to be denied.

The reluctance to recognise the possibility of depression takes on an even greater significance in a time of Existential Collapse. The ramifications of collapse will seriously impact younger generations and those yet to be born. Older generations (if they understand at all) may be reluctant to engage with younger people because they wish to protect their children and grandchildren from such thinking.

Yet, not talking about collapse hides a truth. An enormous truth! An unwillingness to enter into conversations around collapse is tantamount to lying. Such conversations may be difficult, they may be painful, they may even be depressive. But, have them we must – for this collapse has already begun, and will become worse – much worse.

Furthermore, younger generations cannot be protected and must not be lied to. Indeed, younger generations most likely know more about Existential Collapse than do older generations.

Notwithstanding the possibility of depression, we must find the courage to begin conversations about Existential Collapse – even if we do not know how or where to begin.

Let us not allow our fear of depression to hinder us from facing our fear of Existential Collapse.

Acceptance

Accepting Existential Collapse may seem to be a strange (even counter-intuitive) notion. How does one accept the possible extinction of the human race? Surely, that is an untenable idea. However, let me be clear: Acceptance is not synonymous with “being okay with.” Nor is acceptance a resigned, non-involved, withdrawal.

Tara Brach coined the term Radical Acceptance which is possibly a better term than the single word – Acceptance. She has said that Radical Acceptance is “…an inner process of accepting our actual, present-moment experience. It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting… (It is) clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart.”1

Perhaps an analogy may help to distinguish between this form of acceptance, and a resigned withdrawal.

Imagine you are a member of a sports team (e.g., rugby, netball, Aussie rules, gridiron, basketball, league …) and the full-time whistle is about to blow within the next couple of minutes. Your team is trailing by thirty points or more – your team is going to lose. Do you, and the rest of your team-mates, give up, stop playing, walk dejectedly off the field? No! You keep playing, right up until the whistle, even though you know you are going to lose. Furthermore, you keep playing as part of the team. You don’t take on the burden of loss all to yourself. Nor do you hog the ball – you pass, you support your team-mates.

That is Acceptance.

Acceptance in a time of Existential Collapse also understands that the past is no longer relevant. Past behaviours and ideas cannot be returned to. They are unsustainable.

This understanding leads many in the Acceptance stage to conclude that the very basis of western-styled techno-industrial civilisation is at the core of the collapse. Business-As-Usual is not an option.

Although Acceptance understands the big picture, it also realises that there are no solutions. Existential Collapse is not a problem to be solved or fixed. It is a predicament which has an outcome, but does not have solutions. See the excellent blogsite (Problems, Predicaments, and Technology).

This would seem to suggest that the emotional response would be depression. It is not. True Acceptance, in fact, opens one up to a new appreciation of beauty, love, joy, and contentment.2

Next week this blog will look into what it means to Mourn in a time of grieving and Existential Collapse.

Notes:

1. www.tarabrach.com (accessed 10 August 2021)

2. Transiting to a stage of Acceptance in a time of Existential Collapse will be the topic of a future blogpiece.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Existential Grief and Mourning (Part 2)

Last week’s blog discussed one of the stages of grief in relation to Existential Collapse. It was suggested that denial is the predominant stage for most of the citizens of, especially, western-styled nations. This week addresses two more stages – anger and bargaining – perhaps the two most common stages that we find activists (and others) in the climate change movement.

Anger

Anger is an on-the-top emotion. When we experience it, we know it – and usually, so do those around us. Anger is driven by, and protective of, the ego. Anger declares: I am threatened, or I have been harmed. Our ego wants to protect us from real and/or perceived threats. So, our ego looks for, and usually finds, an external source of the threat or pain.

Anger is also a cover-up emotion. It covers up deeper emotions. Beneath anger we often find other emotional states: betrayal, physical harm, abuse, and abandonment, are some possibilities. These hidden emotions vary from person to person, and from culture to culture. Anger, and our ego, is determined to shield us from these deeper emotions. With respect to Existential Collapse, beneath the anger may be the pain of a deep sense of impending loss. Loss is always difficult, and painful. Existential Collapse is the ultimate loss, and extremely painful. No wonder we want to shield ourselves from that.

Once a source of threat or pain is identified, the ego now has something, or someone, to blame. Presently, the various movements around the world find it easy to identify culprits: business leaders, trans-national companies, world leaders, the media, politicians. Once identified, it is easy to uncover further evidence for this analysis. Confirmation bias kicks in and we can find many articles with titles such as “Biggest 10 carbon emitters” almost every day.

Anger is a useful early response to Existential Collapse – it protects us. However, remaining within this stage is unhelpful, because we remain externally focussed. We can find more and more evidence that we are right, that someone or something else is to blame, and hence deserving of our anger.

When that happens, anger has become a blindfold, preventing us from seeing the bigger picture.

Bargaining

The other stage that many activists (and others) are caught in is that of bargaining. Bargaining allows us to hold onto hope, even though we are experiencing pain. Bargaining asks: If I (we) do this then can things get back to normal?

Bargaining in a time of Existential Collapse says: If we do this, and that, then collapse will not happen. Bargaining is a hopeful stage, it paints a rosy picture of the future, one in which everything will be okay.

Because this stage is hopeful of the future, it often is a solutions-generating stage. However, solutions posited in this stage tend to be of a reactive and grasping nature. Reacting to a simplistic analysis and grasping at quick (often technological) fixes. Such solutions arise from a mechanistic way of thinking.

The mechanistic, Cartesian, ways of thinking have been with us in the western world for some 400 years or so. Einstein, however, challenged this by telling us that:

“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Einstein was not simply suggesting thinking differently about problems, he was suggesting a completely different way of thinking.1

Because we continue to think and generate solutions within a mechanistic mindset, the solutions generated in this bargaining stage, more often than not, also tend to exacerbate the very problem we are wanting to solve.

Bargaining keeps us locked into an historical trap. A trap that keeps us thinking we can be certain of being able to fix things. A trap within which we continue to believe we can be in control of the anthropocentric project of progress. That is techno-addiction.

The bargaining stage is useful to us, it means we can, at least, look forward to a possible future. However, as with anger, if we linger here too long, we do so at our peril.

Plus, we fail to see the underlying cause of the strife we are in and the damage we continue to inflict upon the earth.

Next week’s blog will explore the stages of Depression and Acceptance.

Note:

1. This blog further explores Einstein’s famous dictum about thinking.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Existential Grief And Mourning

This is the first of a series of blogpieces seeking to understand our collective and individual response to social and environmental collapse.

The first warning bells sounded fifty years ago with the release of Limits To Growth.1 That ground-breaking study looked at several possible future scenarios based on projections of population. resource use, pollution, food per capita, and industrial output. One of these scenarios the authors termed the Standard model. Since 1972 this has come to be re-phrased as Business As Usual. Recent research and studies have shown that those warning bells rang true.2

We are at the limits to growth. We are nearing collapse.

Many reading this may think that I am speaking of collapse as resulting from climate change. I am…but so much more as well. To borrow a term from the climate change lexicon – we are facing a perfect storm.

This perfect, super, storm is comprised of: climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, soil depletion, pollution, water degradation, food scarcity, diminishing fuel reserves. Added to these are the more socially constructed harms of: political polarisation, mass refugee and migration movements, an ever-increasing chasm between rich and poor, techno-addiction, and loss of trust in so-called world leaders. All these, and more, are coming together simultaneously, to create unavoidable collapse.

Whether we know it or not, like it or not, this existential crisis gives rise to grief and mourning.

Five Stages of Grief

In 1969 the Swiss-American psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross postulated five stages of the grief process. Her theories and ideas have little changed in the intervening five decades. Her five stages of grief is a useful model with which to dissect our collective response to existential loss. This first part will explore the stage of Denial. Further Parts will explore the other four stages: Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. A final Part will ask: what does it mean to mourn when faced with the potential extinction of the human species?

Denial

For decades, denial was the default position on climate change for most of the world’s leaders, captains of industry, politicians, and other decision-makers. Within the general population, denial of climate change was also widespread, although this has changed somewhat during the course of this century, with denial less evident within the general population.

More recently, even some of the most recalcitrant of the world’s leaders have shifted and now, at least, acknowledge the reality of climate change.

However, the planetary system has shifted immensely in far less time than it took these leaders to change their minds. It has gone from Climate Change, to Climate Chaos, to Climate and Environmental-Social Collapse within just a few short years.

Collapse goes much deeper than simply Climate Change – it means death. A death of our way of life, perhaps even the death of our very existence on this planet. Such a thought is extremely uncomfortable – so much so that the most common response is denial. Indeed, denial is reasonable and totally understandable. Denial protects us from those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. At least, it does so until such time as we are capable of moving on.

There is a danger in lingering too long in denial however.

When someone is faced with the death of a loved one, a person in denial wonders how they can go on, perhaps even questioning why they should go on.

Faced with existential death however, our collective denial shifts our response from one of ‘how do I go on’ to a stubborn ‘we will go on.’ Denying the possibility of the extinction of humanity we, collectively, say: it’s business as usual, we won’t change, we’ll keep on keeping on. And so, we will continue to extract minerals from the earth, we will continue to exploit nature for our own ends, we will continue to pollute the land, sea, and air with our waste. Denial says we must keep fuelling the industrial-consumerist machine in whatever way possible.

But!  Denial, ultimately, stops us from seeing the error and foolishness of our ways.

We cannot afford to linger in denial, for the longer we remain in denial, the closer collapse comes, and the harder the fall is likely to be.

Next week will explore anger and bargaining.

Notes:

1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens III, The Limits to Growth (Report for the Club of Rome), Universe Books, New York, 1972.

2. For example, https://www.livescience.com/collapse-human-society-limits-to-growth.html (accessed 28 July 2021)

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Bright Green Lies (Book Review)

Can we solve the climate crisis? Not the way we are going claim the authors of Bright Green Lives.1 Using more and more fossil fuels certainly won’t work. (Fossil fuels will only worsen the situation.) However, nor will a switch to alternative, “renewable,” energy sources,

In the search for solutions to carbon emissions many in the climate change movement advocate solar, wind, and other “renewable” sources of energy.

There is an inherent problem within that phrase – ‘renewable sources of energy’ – though. In fact, two problems. First, “renewables” are not renewable. Renewable suggests there is no impact upon the earth and that the electricity produced is carbon-neutral. Both are a myth. Second, is the word “energy.” One of the biggest confusions in the discussion about renewables is the conflation of energy and electricity. Renewables can supply electricity, but not total energy. In fact, electricity production in most countries of the world is no more than 20% of total energy, in some cases much less. This conflation can lead to false claims. The authors cite the case of Germany which is often touted as being a leader in renewables. Bright Green Lies quotes a leading climate change campaigner as lauding Munich obtaining “half its energy from solar panels” on some days. As the authors note, that is physically impossible. In attempting to present credible solutions, such claims for solar and other “renewables,” are irresponsible. Furthermore, such claims send out a message of “false hope,” which surely does nothing for future generations.

These are but two of several myths identified by the authors. Others include the myths of: decoupling, efficiency gains, scaling, and no harm.

The basic problem with “renewables” is that they continue the same industrial progress mentality with which we got ourselves into this mess in the first place. From the mining of materials, to the processing, to fabrication, and to installation; all “renewables” do damage to the environment, often displace local people, and – significantly – require fossil fuels for their construction.

The authors comment on this mentality of damaging the planet in order to save it. “The most important, and simplest, solution to the destruction of the planet is to stop the destruction of the planet.” What could be simpler?

Two western concepts are at the heart of our continued destruction, and the authors take issue with each.

Our western cultural heritage has left us with an anthropocentric, hierarchical, model of the world with humans at the top. The book also hits us in our consumptive belly, and hits hard. Reading this will double you up with a painful recognition that there are no alternatives; there is no “renewable” road to sustainability.

There will be many within the climate change movement who will scorn this book, attempt to counter its arguments, and dismiss it. That will be a pity, because it is only when the “environmental” approach to the earth is reclaimed, that any halting of the destruction of the earth can occur. Admittedly, there are some within the movement who seem to understand this. In fact, I wonder if Greta Thunberg has read this book. When I listen to some of her recent speeches, I suspect she may have, or at least arrived at similar conclusions on her own.2

The authors of Bright Green Lies often deride “environmentalists” for advocating technological solutions that will continue to damage the environment. It is disappointing that the authors choose to use the term “environmentalist” in this way. To my way of thinking, those who continue to advocate for damaging technologies, are not acting from an environmental awareness, but rather from an anthropocentric one. Environmentalism must reclaim its mandate and remove itself from underneath the heavy footfalls of technological industrialism.

“OK, OK,” I hear the cries. “Its all very well telling us that “renewables” are not the solution – what is?” The authors address this in the last two chapters of the book, although a hint of the solutions is made in the very first sentence of the book. The book begins with a note on language, and begins thus:

“It’s customary when writing about nonhumans to use the relative pronoun that rather than who: ‘We cut down the tree that used to grow by the pond,’ not ‘We cut down the tree who used to grow by the pond.”

Simply changing from the first perspective to the second would radically transform our understanding of who we are, where we fit, and how we act.

Bright Green Lies is as important a cautionary book in 2021 as Silent Spring3 was in 1962. If you didn’t read Silent Spring then, read Bright Green Lies now.

P.S. I do have one suggestion to the authors and publishers of this book, if they decide to do a second edition. Please add an Index.

Notes:

1. Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, & Max Wilbert, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost its Way and What we can do about it. Monkfish Book Publishing Co., Rhinebeck, New York, 2021.

2. For example, listen to her speech to the Austrian World Summit, July 2021 here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6eQwAi2U18)

3. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, Boston, 1962.