When we speak of climate change and the long list of planetary damages it wreaks, it’s common to invoke grandchildren. "Preserve the planet for the sake of our grandchildren," we say. Or, "Let’s not let our grandchildren have to deal with the problem with which we should be dealing." Bill McKibben, however, says:
"Forget the grandkids. It turns out this was a problem for our parents." (16)Faced with what we now know, some remain in denial, their fingers stuck firmly in their ears. Others, seeing the collapse coming, amass stockpiles of canned goods, bottled water, and they're down in their basements oiling their guns.
At this point, maybe you’re thinking: “Oh, such gloom and doom! It’s depressing. It’s stressful. Tell me something uplifting and inspiring, not this litany of disaster scenarios."
Gentle reader, I’m not going to tell you soothing lies in the interest of being “inspirational.” I’m going to tell you the truth as best I can discern it. And here’s a truth that I think happens to also be inspiring:
Reality is never depressing.
Being in denial, being out of touch with reality, pushing it out of consciousness, so that it has to sneak around, come at you from behind, and crawl up your back (for reality eventually finds a way to get through to us), that's the source of depression. Struggling to resist irresistible reality – that's what triggers depression and stress. Reality is never depressing.
Mindful attention to exactly what is is a practice of cultivating joy. Even if what is is pain. Literally. If you’ve got a throbbing knee pain or headache, bring all your attention to the pain itself, minutely noticing every detail of its sensation. This doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does make the pain bother you less, for as long as you sustain attention.
Reality presents us with challenges, and those challenges become depressing or stressful problems only when we want to push them away, push them out of mind. Instead, engage, and connect.
The good news is: you and I are going to die. That’s great news because it means we don’t have to figure out how to live forever – get everything solved, all threats removed, so that we can then relax into our immortality. We don't have that responsibility. We only have this short time -- a day, a year, a few decades -- and all we have to do is show up for just this decade or two, this year, this day. That's all. Hallelujah, we do not bear the the burden of eternity. Knowing I am blessed with an ironclad exit strategy, knowing the divine takes form only temporarily in the body and set of ego defenses called "me," I am liberated. My task is no more (and no less) than to manifest this transience that I am. We are, each of us, called upon only to manifest -- and in our manifesting engage with the challenges that happen to arise for the few years we happen to be here.
OK, so we, as a species, did not adopt the Ecospiritual Imperative to connect spiritually to nature in a way that would have empowered us, in joy, to preserve the Earth we knew. As a result, now we face the Ecospiritual Challenge to fashion what life we can on the new Earth.
The Ecospiritual Challenge is to walk a third way: not denying the reality we face, and nor retreating into everyone-for-herself survivalism. It is the path of open-eyed and open-eared awareness, and also the path of connection to both nature and neighbor -- not afraid to face reality, not avoiding needed knowledge because it's "depressing" and you’d rather not think about it. And at the same time not bunkering protectively.
The Ecospiritual Challenge is to choose neither despair nor defense, but new community.
This is a spiritual challenge because the courage to face reality exactly as it is comes from spiritual discipline. Our capacity to hold our world in love, whatever may come -- and I do mean whatever may come -- is developed in spiritual practice and in spiritual community. And where love is, fear and sadness are not.
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This is part 3 of 4 of "The Ecospiritual Challenge."
Next: Part 4: "The New Earth"
Previous: Part 2: "The Climates They Have A-Changed"
Beginning: Part 1: "Fermi and the Nature of Intelligent Life"