To be awake is to straddle the canyon between where we can be, and where we are. We are called on to witness this disparity and actually allow it to touch our hearts and sear our minds, and still stay in the game This is the deep challenge of being awake.
If you consider yourself an activist, if you have, like me made a sacred promise to engage with the issues and the challenges head on and not turn away, you know what I am talking about. You know you can’t be an effective activist without learning the facts about our collective impact on each other and on the living systems of our planet. And yet, how do you do that without going numb, or turning away, or going back to sleep? Our choice seems to be either to remain asleep and blissfully ignorant or to wake up and become deeply depressed. But is that true? And what are we surprised about anyway? It’s like deciding to become a doctor and then being bummed out because you have to deal with sick people all the time.
As our dear friend and visionary environmental writer Paul Hawken has said, “When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.”
So, yes, we are being alarmists. And why not? What is happening to our world is indeed alarming. And alarms are designed to warn us of danger and to wake us up. But hold on. Let’s do something radical here; let’s question the very premise that something is going terribly wrong. My study of cosmology and the brilliance of the unfolding 14 billion year dance of evolutionary genius that has lead to us, has me suspicious about reading the tea leaves of our times in a way that lands us in despair and resignation. A way of life, a worldview is collapsing, yes. And yes, we are in for disruptive and turbulent times. But at the same time that something is dying, something else, something wonderful is emerging. You can see it in the faces of the people around you, in your cohorts who, fully aware of the immense challenges of we face, arise each morning committed to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet. So when people tell me that the world is contracting, I say great. How far apart are the contractions?