“Most of all you can break out of your mind’s silo and initiate yourself into the tribe — become one of the people. But however you move, you know you can’t do this stuff on your own. Somehow you have to decipher the law. Our ways of understanding life in graphs and linear narrative are not cutting it at this point because the planet is not shaped that way. Its laws are not made of words or mathematics. Varuna speaks in winds and ocean waves and his law governs worlds of never-ending chaos and creativity. We can no longer peer into our human problems as if we were Freud, and our ‘issues’ a hysterical woman from Vienna. In a dramaturgical age, we are all actor and director and playwright, and frequently find ourselves waiting in the wings, spear in hand, woefully under rehearsed. The Earth, we realise, is our stage. Without it, we are meaningless.”
I read this essay when it first came out on the Dark Mountain site. Today, returning from writing this essay I’m about to transcribe from my notebook, I found it again. Charlotte has republished it on her own site.
I am struck by serendipity. As should become clear, there are many parallels between her essay and this one. Hers more erudite and more poetic. Mine more plodding and explanatory. Sometimes it seems as though I’m still in high school geometry class preparing a proof for Mr. Dahill….
We both deal with a perception that has long preoccupied me, finding ourselves on the deck of the Titanic as the consequences of a mere “bump in the night” begin to interfere with our insistence that our ship is unsinkable….
The Consequences of Our Precarity
Beneath all of the adjustments we need to make, the changes in attitude and outlook that might bring about some real change, lies this big one. An adjustment to our growing awareness of the extent of our precarity.
Our survival as individuals, families, larger associations, nations, cultures, a civilization; is in question. The depth and breadth of the great extinction we participate in, whether it will include us in a tally of lost species, is a source of real concern.
It can be deeply problematic to focus too much on the question of Near Term Extinction, for example. This speculation, and especially any rationalizations based on a conviction it must come to pass – and soon – is a grand invitation to remain Egocentric, to defend a reactive stance with all manner of histrionics. (Not the dramaturgy I believe Charlotte has in mind!)
Questions of human extinction, above and beyond our direct exposure to mortality; our own, of those who matter to us. These questions are forever outside our capacity to know anything about them well enough to act out of any degree of certainty. This all takes place beyond any horizon we have access to.
Questions of our own precarity are a different matter. The instinct for survival drives life. There is an intrinsic validity to our questioning circumstances and searching for “better odds.”
This search is fundamental to life. Without a drive to seek out better chances of survival no organism would last. No species continue to exist.
The twist is that our civilization’s supreme overshoot, approaching its apogee, has proliferated existential risks and piled-on deadly scenarios waiting to unfold. We don’t know which threat is most imminent, or, what combination of catastrophes await us. Any perusal of the menu of options hanging over our heads leaves us with an abundance of possible dead-ends. Our precarity is extreme everywhere . It reaches into any foreseeable future.
What do we do with this information?
That is the question!
Before we’re carried away by anxiety let’s back-up.
All life must always face the inevitability of its end.
How do we know something is alive?
If it can die.
Mortality is nothing new. Mortality, in many places at many times, has run rampant; a cruel, obliterating business…. We have no monopoly on this eventuality.
One cause and effect of our particular circumstances is a peculiar attitude towards precarity and mortality. Peculiar in that it is rare among creatures – and our human ancestors in the deeper past.
It is also peculiar as it is founded on a delusion. We maintain we can control our Fate. We consider mortality a failure of control.
A theme running through these essays has been that the only control we can exercise beyond shaping our attention is to destroy. The only control we have beyond our own attention is destruction. We can only control life by ending it. Following our chain of unrelenting “unintended consequences” through history we arrive at this point, a due-date on pay-back for our shared will-to-control.
Put these strands together and it becomes clear – at least as a glimmer – that the place we can effect our precarity most directly is found by adapting a different attitude towards a range of customary reactions, from seeking security to asking for salvation. Our conceptions of anything touched by these desires are constricted by our assumption that security and its cousin salvation can be assured.
Security and salvation arise from these beginnings. We wish for stability. We long to be removed from suffering. They’ve grown into overwhelming habits of thought. Today, in our dominant cultures, these two urges have reached their inevitable, absurd ends. Our greatest rationalizations; for increasing destruction, for killing, for adding immeasurably to the suffering in the world; are driven by these two demands. Jung’s shadows (Charlotte’s Varuna) bite us in the ass again….
How can we live with the increasing conviction that we’re heading into very bad times indeed?
We can learn to live without this breathless insistence that we must have control.
Most profoundly such a shift brings us into a coherent relationship with what-is. The power of delusion is defused. We stop acting as automatons of a Fate shaped by our refusal to confront our fears. This has a tremendous effect. This lies within our capacities. Whereas all of our will-to-control only leads us into fantasies of power. There is great strength to be found in such a realignment.
This also has a direct relation to suffering.
Suffering is not pain. Pain cannot be avoided when it comes to us. What can be changed is how we respond to pain. Do we, as Ego would prefer it, demand that pain is intolerable? Do we forgo our responsibility to act with proprioception and insist that others must “pay” for our pain? Pain we insist we must react to as suffering? Do we insist that our pain become the cause of further pain, the source of suffering in others?
Or, do we accept pain, accept the inevitability of mortality, the ubiquity of our precarity; and end suffering at its source?
Mind-fog threatens to close over us when contemplating the clarity of this choice. Ego, and the shocks and syndromes of our weakened states strive to block our capacity to understand this, our capacity for compassion.
This brings us to the value of practice. Vitality always turns us towards community, towards sharing.
As Charlotte says,
“…however you move, you know you can’t do this stuff on your own.“
* * *
This seems a likely time to introduce you to a new joint-venture, Concentric Dialogue. I’ll have more to say about it… devote a post to it…. But for now, at this point in this question…. Where we’ve just arrived…. This is a good place to bring it up!
It is a place of community. A place where a different approach to practice is being explored.
Whenever we find the possibility of growth – the real kind not the cancer of compounding linear expansion – it is hard not to be reminded of how precarious our existence. This can act as either a deterrent or a spur. Reminding us of all we have at risk, we can choose either to step back or to step forward. Close-off or open-up.
Wish us well! Join us!
Our shared precarious situation is all the invitation anyone needs!
Let’s enter these questions. Let’s spend time with them. Let’s share our fears, our strengths, our hopes.
The consequences of our precarity are beyond our capacity to know. Let’s discover another approach. Awaken new paths of creative thinking and dialogue. Together.