Imagined futures & an alternate timeline where a collective of popes guide us into a more ecologically sound civilization

I cannot help imagining different futures and alternate realities, including the ones I would like to see.

When it comes to desired changes in society, imagination goes before transformation, so these imaginations can be hugely helpful and important.

I imagine something that will almost certainly not happen as I imagine it, and yet, these imaginations serve a purpose. They highlight what’s lacking in our current institutions. They offer an alternative. And that imagination may guide us. It may be a seed to something different.

For whatever reason, I imagine what a future institution of the pope would look like. What if ecological overshoot brings about a radical transformation of civilization? What if we realize that all our structures and institutions need to radically transform? What if we realize that most religions need to radically transform to take ecological realities into account? What if we want religions to be among what guides us into a more ecologically informed civilization? What then? How may it look? How would I like it to look?

What if an alternate reality of the institution of the pope looks radically different? What if it’s free from any particular religion? What if it is far more inclusive? What if its purpose is to guide civilization in a more ecologically sound direction? What if it’s earth-centered, life-centered, and future-centered? What if all life is considered sacred? What if it’s a collective of people from around the world? What if each is there for only a limited time?

Here is one vision.

I notice a part of me thinking that this is silly. It certainly won’t happen this way. It’s naive. It’s not grounded in reality. And yet, this is how social change happens. It happens through imagining possible futures and alternative timelines. It happens through imaginations most see as naive and unrealistic.

It happens not only through the imagination of writers, poets, artists, or philosophers. It happens through the imagination of people like you and me.

Images by me and Midjourney.

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Viscerally getting others as consciousness

In a very general way, how we perceive ourselves is how we see others.

If I perceive myself as primarily consciousness, I tend to perceive others as primarily consciousness. I tend to see others as consciousness and the world, to them, as happening within and as that consciousness. We are all primarily subjects and a world to ourselves. (We subjectify.)

If I perceive myself as fundamentally this human self, or anything else within the content of experience, I tend to perceive others as fundamentally the same. We are all objects within the world. (We objectify.)

TRANSFORMING OURSELVES

As usual, it’s that simple, and also not.

One question is: How can I deepen into noticing my nature? How can I deepen into living from and as it? How can I invite more of me – this bodymind and psyche – to be more onboard with it? How do I relate to this whole process?

The other question is: How can I deepen into imagining others as consciousness? How can I allow that to work on me and transform this bodymind and life?

Both of these are ongoing explorations. There is no finishing line. (As far as I can tell.)

And there is a difference between these two. The first recognition is an immediate noticing. The second requires some intention and imagination.

HOW THIS IS FOR ME

I have written more about this below, in another version of this article.

This is an ongoing exploration for me, and it makes a huge difference in how I perceive and relate to other beings.

Here at Finca Milagros, I see any living being as consciousness and a world to themselves. To themselves, they are consciousness just like me. The only difference is the particular body and nervous system they operate through and as.

That gives me a natural reverence for all life. If I kill one of them – inadvertently or intentionally – I snuff out a whole universe. I snuff out their particular universe.

That’s not something I take lightly.

That’s one side of it. The other side is that this bodymind was formed within separation consciousness as is the case for most of us. It has a lot of hangups, wounds, and traumas, as many of us do. And all of that also color how I perceive and live in the world. I eat some meat. I sometimes get scared, angry, and reactive. I sometimes feel exhausted and care less. And so on. That’s part of the process too.

Images by me and Midjourney.

This is a simplified version of a longer article. See below for the first version of this article which gives more details.

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Why I love vultures

A few days ago, I saw a dead dove near our house on Finca Milagros. It had been there for some hours and the vultures likely wouldn’t touch since it was too close to people. I moved the dove up the hill and put up a wildlife camera, and the vultures came after half an hour for their meal.

WHY DO VULTURES (SOMETIMES) HAVE A BAD REPUTATION?

Why do vultures have a bad reputation in some cultures?

I suspect it serves a function. Vultures are connected with dead animals and rotting meat. We are built differently and rotting meat tends to make us sick. So it makes sense, to some extent, for cultures to instill a revulsion against scavengers in general, including vultures.

The downside is that it can make us blind to their right to life just like us and how they serve us and nature in general.

I LOVE VULTURES

Why do I love vultures?

Vultures serve important functions in the ecosystem. They clean up rotting meat which benefits us, other animals, and the ecosystem as a whole.

As mentioned above, they sometimes have a bad reputation. Where we are in the Andes mountains, farmers sometimes put out poisoned meat to kill them. (This seems oddly self-defeating. It puts poison into the food chain which is bad for all of us, and the presence of vultures in our ecosystem directly helps us. Vultures are on our side.) I have a personality that tends to support and defend underdogs. I want to stand up for them and give them a voice.

They are likely consciousness like me. To themselves, they are very likely consciousness, and just like me, they function through a body. The only difference is the type of body. (They are pure consciousness, and the form it takes depends on the bodymind, the particular senses, the nervous system, and so on.)

They are living beings like me. Like me, they wish to avoid suffering and find (their form of) happiness.

They are expressions of this living planet, just like me. They are part of the same seamless living planet.

They are expressions of the universe, just like me. They too are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. They are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

VULTURES ARE NOT SACRED?

I posted a vulture video from my wildlife camera on social media, and received this story:

The Parsis of India depend on vultures to dispose of the dead. Soil is sacred so they can’t defile it by burying a corpse. Fire is sacred so they don’t cremate. Water is sacred so they don’t put bodies in water. Air is sacred so they don’t leave bodies to rot. The vultures are the ultimate recyclers.

Of course, this likely has a practical function as well. It obviously makes sense to not put dead bodies in water. As for the rest, I am not sure. Perhaps they didn’t want to use valuable food-producing land for cemeteries. Perhaps they wanted to use valuable firewood for the living. Offering dead bodies to vultures makes sense, it’s a good practical solution.

At the same time, the traditional explanation above doesn’t quite make sense. Is a dead body not sacred? Are vultures not sacred? I imagine there are annoying people in their culture pointing that out.

The video is from the wildlife camera I set up with a view to the dead dove

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Earth from ISS

A suicidal / ecocidal civilization: Finding a more real, grounded, and kind way to relate to it all

All civilizations rise and fall, and ours is no exception.

An interesting twist is that ours is the first global civilization that rises and falls and we don’t know how that’s going to look.

INDEX

What comes together falls apart | A civilization fatally out of alignment with reality | Sudden change | Familiarity with systems dynamics | We have the solutions but do we have the collective will? | What will collapse mean? | What can we do individually? | Collapse acceptance | Power-over vs power-with | What’s my history with this? | Notes

WHAT COMES TOGETHER FALLS APART

How can we know that our current civilization will fall?

In terms of history, it’s because all past civilizations have risen and fallen. It’s what civilizations do and ours is no exception.

In the bigger picture, it’s because everything does. What comes together falls apart.

We can notice it here and now. Every moment, what was is gone and something new and fresh is here. And it happens at more obvious and larger scales, including at the scale of humanity, culture, Earth, and the universe. It will all be gone.

Everything we know – collectively and individually – has come together and will fall apart.

A CIVILIZATION FATALLY OUT OF ALIGNMENT WITH REALITY

We can also look at specifics of how our civilization creates its own fall.

The most obvious may be that our civilization is fatally out of alignment with reality.

We operate on a worldview that’s out of alignment with reality. For instance, we assume and emphasize separation in a world where everything is intimately connected. We assume the superiority and rights of humans over other beings. We prioritize the current generations over Future generations. And, crucially, we assume that the Earth has unlimited resources and unlimited ability to absorb waste. (See more below under “Power-over vs power-with”.)

This is reflected in all aspects of our culture and all our systems. (1)

Let’s look at our economic system.

We have created an economic system that assumes an infinite ability of nature to provide resources and absorb waste, and that our health and well-being is not dependent on the health and well-being of the larger ecological systems.

We made those assumptions because it fits our general worldview, and because we practically could at the time it was developed.

At the time, our population was relatively small and our technology relatively simple so we didn’t receive immediate feedback from nature. For all practical purposes, nature was infinite.

We still use that economic system. The problem is that we now have a much larger population and a far more efficient technology, so Earth cannot keep up.

Globally, our ecological footprint would require two Earths to be sustainable. And for the Western world, our ecological footprint would require around five Earths to be sustainable.

We are also putting more waste into the Earth’s system than it can easily deal with. There are plastic particles and toxins in just about every living being. We are in the middle of an insect apocalypse because we (insanely) grow our good with toxins. Our climate is changing dramatically from all the heat-trapping gasses we release into the atmosphere.

We are in overshoot and we are not doing anything significant to change it.

And that overshoot has serious consequences.

SUDDEN CHANGE

Ecologically, we are doing the equivalent of living on our savings. If we lived on the interests – the surplus produced by the Earth – it would be sustainable. But we are digging into the savings. That looks OK for a while. We have what we need. Then we suddenly realize the harsh reality. We are out of funds.

Our climate is similarly set to undergo sudden change. Any system tries to maintain equilibrium for as long as possible. We put heat-tapping gasses into the atmosphere, the system maintains a kind of stability for a while. And at some point, it shifts into a new state, and that tends to happen quickly. In the case of climate, it shifts into a more chaotic and unpredictable state.

That’s what we can expect with our global ecological system as a whole. In the coming decades, we can expect to see a series of sudden and likely dramatic shifts. These shifts feed into the system to trigger a cascade of other shifts.

What may happen?

Several moderate changes are already happening: More extreme weather. Stronger storms. More drought. Heavier rain and flooding. Crop failures. Species extinction. Mass death of insects impacting the whole ecosystem. Mass human migrations away from areas that become unlivable from drought, flooding, and rising ocean levels (eventually tens of meters). This, in itself, is serious but manageable, at least initially.

We may also see more extreme changes: Changes in ocean currents may significantly impact regional climates. The oceans may die due to rising water temperatures, acidification, and low oxygen levels, and this – loss of oxygen production from plankton, etc. – will seriously impact land life. Forests may collapse in large regions due to drought or they may lose their ability to produce oxygen because of increased temperatures. And so on. These are all things experts in the field say can happen, and will likely happen if the current Earth changes go far enough. If any of this actually happens, it’s not realistically manageable for us. It may not be compatible with human life.

FAMILIARITY WITH SYSTEMS DYNAMICS

If we are not familiar with big-picture thinking or systems theories, we may assume a kind of linear and gradual progression. That means we have time. Things look mostly OK so far, so why change too much too soon?

If we are familiar with overshot and systems views, we tend to see it differently. Then we know that things may look mostly on for a while, then there is a sudden shift, and we are screwed. We don’t have time to wait. Changing things within our current sudden is not enough. We need a deep transformation of our civilization as a whole.

WE HAVE THE SOLUTIONS BUT DO WE HAVE THE COLLECTIVE WILL?

We have the solutions.

We know some (humane) ways to reduce our population. (Educate women, provide economic safety nets for everyone, and so on.)

We have many technological solutions that are part of the puzzle.

We know how to create an economic system that takes ecological realities into account, and where what’s attractive and easy to do – individually and collectively – is also ecologically sound. (We have the big picture and know in what direction to move, and the details will be worked out.)

We have the worldviews necessary for a more sustainable civilization. Some elements may be ecospirituality within each of the major religions, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, deep ecology, systems views, integral views, and so on.

The question is: Do we have the collective will? Will we find it in time?

We are already too late to avoid massive changes to our planet which will impact all of us, so we have minus time in that sense.

Will we be able to create an ecologically sustainable civilization in time to prevent the fall of our civilization? We have to work towards it as much as we can, but it is unlikely.

What we tend to see at the end of civilizations is what we see in the world today: A few who recognize what’s happening, take it seriously and sincerely work towards creating a better and more functional civilization. Many who go into denial, continue much as before, or wait for others to do something. Polarization, infighting, distractions, and the privileged holding onto their privilege even if it’s suicidal. Of course, all of this is common anyway.

There is also a great deal of simplistic misdiagnosis of the situation. Ideas that focus on aspects of what’s happening within the system but not the system itself. Some blame greed, governments, or corporations. Some think there is a technological solution. Some assume it’s mainly about climate change. Some think we still have time because the changes will be gradual and incremental. And so on. All of it is simplistic and myopic. This misdiagnosis reflects and comes out of the worldview that created the situation in the first place. And the misdiagnosis is part of the problem.

WHAT WILL COLLAPSE MEAN?

I don’t know.

What we know is that it will look different from the collapse of past civilizations. They were regional and this one is global. People in those civilizations continued to live their lives, just in a slightly different context. A lot from those civilizations was passed on to other and emerging civilizations. In our case, we don’t have another place to go. We have destroyed our global life-support system to the extent that it may no longer be able to support us, or at least very many of us.

The best scenario may be significant ecological changes, a significant reduction in the size of humanity, and a new emerging civilization – hopefully with some lessons learned. This requires that the more extreme Earth changes – like the death of the oceans – don’t happen.

The worst, from our perspective, is the end of humanity. (Along with many other species and ecosystems.) The Earth’s system changes to the extent that it’s no longer compatible with human life. In this case, the end of humanity happens sooner rather than later. If the changes are as dramatic and rapid as some scientists – and especially those familiar with systems views – think, it may even happen within one or two generations.

In the bigger picture, these are not disasters. This is just what happens. It’s how reality is set up. Things come together and fall apart. Death is the price of life.

WHAT CAN WE DO INDIVIDUALLY?

The question then is: What can we do individually and in small groups?

We can do what we can in our own life.

We can find what we are most drawn to, and do that. Joanna Macy talks about three categories: Stopping actions. Creating and living alternatives. And developing and spreading new worldviews.

In my case, I eat organic and local as much as possible and do a few more things in my personal life. I used to be actively involved in local sustainability organizations. I do healing work for myself and others. I currently have 36 acres in the Andes mountains I am helping regenerate and make into a food forest. (I realize the last one is not everyone can do, and I didn’t expect it in my life.)

We can all find something we are drawn to that’s meaningful and a small part of the solutions. We may not be able to save the world. But we can save our world. We can save ourselves by doing something meaningful.

We can realize that we live within a *system* that’s not ecologically sustainable.

That means that what’s easy and attractive to do is not ecologically sustainable. We all, inevitably, contribute to the destruction of ecosystems, just by going about our own lives. That’s not our fault. It’s inevitable. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. (And we don’t need to use it as an excuse either.)

We can find ways to nourish ourselves through our connections with the larger whole.

We can explore the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, Deep Ecology, ecospirituality, systems views, integral views, and so on. Whatever we resonate with.

We can spend time in nature. We can connect with and nourish our physical body and sense-oriented animal self.

We can get familiar with the bigger picture.

Through the Universe story, the Epic of Evolution, systems views, Big History, and so on, we can become familiar with the bigger picture.

We expect what comes together to fall apart.

During the end of a civilization, we expect an amplification of what we generally see in society: Polarization, infighting, distractions, denial, people holding onto privilege, and so on. It’s what humans do.

We also expect some to do the work to create a better functioning civilization.

And we expect to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a wide range of emotions as a response to what’s happening.

We can find more peace with death and change.

Change happens. What comes together falls apart.

It happens continuously, which we notice if we look closely. And it happens at a more obvious and larger scale, sooner or later.

Change and death are what allow something new to exist. It’s what opens up space for something new and different. It’s what allows experience. It’s what allows evolution. It’s how we are here. It’s what allows anything to exist at all.

Everything and everyone is born to die.

It’s meant to be. It’s perfect. It’s how this universe is set up.

We can find gratitude.

We can find the gifts in death and change. As I have mentioned above, it’s what allows anything to be at all. It’s what allows us as individuals to be. It’s what allowed humanity and our current civilization to exist.

It’s what opens the space for something new. When our civilization is gone, who knows what will come in its place? Perhaps some humans will survive and create something new, and even something more aligned with ecological realities. And when humanity is gone, who knows what will come in our place? Perhaps the descendants of the octopus will create a new and amazing civilization that would not be possible if we were still here.

We can allow and welcome our grief, anger, and other responses.

It’s completely natural to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a range of other emotions in the face of what’s happening with our world. And it helps to make friends with it and even welcome it.

It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s something we can channel into action.

We are, in a very real way, a local part of the Earth grieving itself. We are the Earth grieving itself.

These are universal emotions. All humans experience it and many or most species likely experience it in one form or another. It’s one of the things that tie us together. Even what triggers these emotions is universal in its essence.

We can find gratitude.

There is a lot to find gratitude for here.

We are an expression of all of existence. We are part of this amazing and beautiful larger whole.

We are alive. We are alive at the peak, in some sense, of our civilization. We have the basics for life and often a lot more. Many of us live beyond what anyone could have imagined in the past, and better than 99.9% of all humans that have lived in terms of healthcare, food availability, convenience and so on.

We are aware of the larger context of impermanence and can allow it to inform us in sobering and beautiful ways.

By viscerally getting impermanence – including of ourselves and all we know – we can find deep and equally visceral gratitude for our life and what’s here now.

We can find kindness towards ourselves.

We can learn to relate to ourselves and our world with more kindness.

That, in itself, makes a big difference.

It makes our life easier, and we are giving ourselves something essential we all wish for. It’s what we often are really looking for when we think we are looking for something else.

It’s something our civilization doesn’t really teach us and something we don’t learn unless we are lucky with our parents and upbringing. So this work is also part of changing our civilization and our individual and collective worldview.

One of the things I do for myself is to aim at being a good parent to myself, especially when thoughts and emotions visit that it’s difficult for me to meet with kindness. And I also use the befriend & awaken approach.

We can find kindness towards others.

We all do our best with the cards we are dealt. When people go into denial, short-sightedness, and so on, it’s their way of dealing with living in this world. A lot of it, or all, comes from fear.

We can be of service.

We can find meaning and joy in being of service, in whatever form that takes for us. Whether it is supporting humans, non-humans, or ecosystems.

We can find fellowship.

We can find others like us. We can find and create communities. We can support each other.

I did this in the past and lost it to some extent (apart from what I carry with me) due to illness and other life circumstances. Now, it may be time to refind and rebuild community.

We can find our nature, if we are drawn to it.

What do I mean by our nature?

It’s true enough that I am this human self in the world.

And if I look more closely, I find that in my own immediate experience, I am more fundamentally what my field of experience happens within and as. I am, more fundamentally, what a thought may call consciousness, and the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. This is what mystics across cultures and throughout time have described. (And talking about it this way is compatible with a range of worldviews.)

Just about anything is an invitation for us to notice and explore how it is to live from our nature. And these types of more dramatic and massive change even more so.

Of course, many won’t be drawn to it. But if you are, then there are ways to explore this. The ones I have found that seem most effective are: The Big Mind process. Headless experiments. Kiloby Inquiries. Basic meditation. And supportive practices like training a more stable attention.

What does this do for us? Not much, necessarily. But it does feel like coming home which is a relief. And it does change the context for everything.

COLLAPSE ACCEPTANCE

What does collapse acceptance mean?

It means accepting that what comes together falls apart.

This civilization will come to an end. Human civilization will come to an end. Humanity will come to an end. Each of those deaths will leave space for something else, which could be a new human civilization or new species eventually developing a new civilization.

It also means accepting the possibility of a more imminent collapse than many expect.

It’s a possibility, it’s not inevitable. We don’t know for certain.

To me, it also means using this to fuel our life – our gratitude, zest for life, engagement, connections, and so on. We can use it to deepen our conscious connection with our life, the life of others, and life in general. We can use it to be good stewards of our own life and life in general. It’s immensely precious as long as it’s here.

POWER-OVER VS POWER-WITH

A few more words about worldviews.

The worldview of our civilization (post-agriculture) has a power-over orientation where we seek power over ourselves, others, nature, and so on. We have a transcendent sky-god out there somewhere and not in or manifesting as everything, including ourselves, others, and nature.

That allows us to see nature – and ourselves and others – as primarily a resource and something to use (and abuse). This is internalized in all of us, and we can train ourselves to recognize it and support and emphasize alternatives ourselves and our culture.

The alternative is a power-with orientation where we seek partnership and cooperation with ourselves (different parts of our psyche), others, nature, and the universe. It’s also to see all of existence as sacred, as the divine or an expression of the divine. (This includes ourselves, others, nature, the universe.)

When this is internalized, it leads to a very different life individually and collectively. We’ll still need to use natural resources to support our own life, but we’ll do it from a different place. We’ll do it with more gratitude, reverence, and seek to find ways to do it that supports not only our own life but the larger living system, future generations, and life in general.

Of course, there will still be times when a more narrow view takes over – times of crisis or when we are caught in trauma, and we’ll make mistakes because we don’t know better – but that will still happen within a larger context of a general power-with and immanent Spirit orientation. And there will be systems in place to protect the interest of life – our own and the wider living systems – to prevent the worst anti-life behaviors.

This is not idealism. It’s what’s necessary for our own survival. It’s how we protect our own survival and the survival of our descendants.

WHAT’S MY HISTORY WITH THIS?

I loved nature from a very early age. As a child, I always said I wanted to become a zoologist. (What I really meant was ecologist but I didn’t know that word then.) I loved being in nature. I loved the hiking, skiing, and cabin trips with my family. I loved sleeping under the stars in the mountains of Norway. I loved the nature documentaries with David Attenborough and Sverre M. Fjelstad. I loved Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which had a huge impact on me and – in many ways – changed my life. (“We are the local ears, eyes, thoughts and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.”)

In my mid-teens, I got deeply into Fritjof Capra, systems views, and the people he references. I also got deeply into Deep Ecology (Arne Næss, a fellow Norwegian) and eco-philosophy, and I got deeply into Jung. I read all the books I could get my hands on from these authors.

Climate change became a big topic in my later teens, in the ’80s, and even then, I saw it as just one expression of the problems inherent in our civilization. We need to make the changes anyway, climate change or no climate change. (Discussing the details about it and whether it’s human-caused or not is a distraction and sometimes an intentional distraction.)

In my twenties, in the US, I read everything I could find about ecospirituality (from any and no particular tradition), ecopsychology, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, and so on. I used the Ecological Footprint a lot in my work with sustainability. (I was the initial paid coordinator for Sustain Dane in Madison, Wisconsin.) I organized several projects where we used the ecological footprint as a central theme, and also several events and workshops (and one longer retreat) where we used the Practices to Reconnect and the Council of All Beings.

These days, I work on a regeneration project (15 hectares) in the Andes mountain. It feels deeply rewarding to help this land become more vibrant and healthy again and support the lives of innumerable beings. An integrated food forest will provide food for non-human beings and humans. And it may also eventually be part of local eco-tourism. We’ll see. Anything can happen.

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Nature documentaries & systems views

I loved the David Attenborough nature documentaries when I grew up, and I love David Attenborough for what he has done to awaken a love for nature in generations of TV viewers.

At the same time, something has struck me about the regular approach to nature documentaries.

They typically take a serial focus on isolated species, with a few prominent examples of interactions with other species or their environment.

They rarely take a systems view. They tend to not emphasize nature as a system and look at dynamics within that system. (Which, of course, includes humans and human civilization.)

To me, that would be far more interesting.

They could still highlight species and draw in people that way. And they could certainly include far more of a whole system view. I imagine that would be fascinating to many viewers.

And it’s hugely important, especially today. It’s enormously important to help people understand and start thinking at a systems level. It’s the only way we can effectively deal with the ecological crisis we find ourselves in the early phases of. (It started hundreds and really thousands of years ago, and we are quickly heading into its culmination.)

I would love to see a series that takes a systems view of nature in general. And, even more, I would love a series that takes a systems view on human history, human interactions with the rest of nature, and the effects on human civilization and local, regional, and global ecosystems.

I have wanted to see that for decades, since my teens when I got deeply into system views (Fritjof Capra and others) and the “green history” of the world.

Back then, I remember I thought that change would happen within a few years, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t yet. The caveat here and that is that I don’t watch TV so there may be series out there taking a systems view that I don’t know about.

Ecosystem collapse

The steady destruction of wildlife can suddenly tip over into total ecosystem collapse, scientists studying the greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history have found.

– The Guardian, Ecosystem collapse ‘inevitable’ unless wildlife losses reversed

If we know sometthing about ecology, the history of Earth, and perhaps systems theories, we know that ecosystems can unravel fast and with disastrous consequences. (Disastrous for the beings dependent on the ecosystem, the living Earth will survive and continue to evolve.)

A system is relatively stable even when many factors are pushing it out its stability. At some point, these factors add up sufficiently for a dramatic shift. And the system eventually finds another equilibrium.

OUR CURRENT ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

We are in the middle of an ecological collapse and we will see more of the consequences in the coming decades. By then, it will be too late to prevent much of the damage. We will be occupied dealing with the immediate consequences of the collapse. And the process will already have gone too far.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Of course, there are still things we can do.

At an individual level, we can get ready for this collapse in whatever ways make sense to us. Creating good community ties is perhaps the most important.

At a collective level, it all depends on our collective will and that’s not here yet. If the will comes, at some point, we can perhaps reduce the severity of the unraveling but we will still find ourselves in a very difficult situation.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LIKELY CONSEQUENCES?

What are some of the likely consequences of this unraveling?

We’ll likely see human migration on a scale beyond anything before in history, with all the conflicts and struggles that will bring. We are already seeing more extreme weather. We’ll see more drought and flooding. We will have problems with food production. (At the very least, disruptions and changes.) We may have more frequent pandemics. (More exposure to unfamiliar pathogens.) We may also see far more serious shifts, including a collapse in the ocean ecosystems which would be disastrous for most land life.

Even the moderate scenarios are immensely costly in terms of money and human suffering. It would have cost us far less to make changes decades ago when all of this was forecast. (I was very aware of it in the ’80s in my teens, as would anyone moderately informed.)

WHY DID IT HAPPEN?

Why didn’t we take care of it back then? After all, it would have been the optimal time. We had the information, and we had the time and resources to make changes.

There may be several answers.

This has to do with the future, which is abstract to us and seems like something we can deal with later.

Politicians typically operate with a time frame of one or two election cycles. The system is set up so they have few to no incentives to think long-term. For them too, it’s easier to push it into the future.

Some may think that this is about someone else and not ourselves. We think we will be safe, and this will be the problem of someone else. (In other parts of the globe, for future generations, or for other species.) We may think we don’t need to take it seriously since others don’t seem to take it seriously. We may think there is still time. We may have other and more immediate priorities, and use our energy and time to take care of our daily life challenges.

Any system has mechanisms to stay stable. And so also society and our culture. There are many incentives and processes that preserve the status quo and resist deep change. That’s generally good, except in this situation where we face a dramatic collective crisis and don’t take it seriously enough.

Our current economic system was created at a time when the limits of nature were not such a problem. Because of low population numbers and less efficient technology, nature was for all practical purposes unlimited. We had apparently unlimited natural resources, and an apparently unlimited ability to send pollution into nature. Nature had enough capacity, so we didn’t need to include the limits of nature in our economic systems.

SYSTEMS CHANGE

These days, we are very much running into the limits of nature so we need an economic system that takes ecological realities into account. We need a system where what’s easy and attractive to do, at individual and collective levels, is also what is good for ecosystems, society, non-human beings, and future generations. That type of system is very much possible, we just need the collective will to implement it.

This is not just about our economic system. This has to do with all human systems, including transportation, energy production, food production, water use, waste, manufacturing, education, philosophy, and far more.

It’s a change that has to permeate every aspect of our individual and collective lives.

LOOKING BACK AT OUR TIMES

Of course, this living and evolving planet will continue even after this crisis. It has survived many crises in the past. (That’s why we are here.) Humans are also likely to survive. (Unless the more radical scenarios play themselves out.)

But we will go through an evolutionary bottleneck. Our numbers may be dramatically reduced, and our way of life will have to dramatically change and adapt.

Hopefully, those who survive will learn something from it. Hopefully, we will transform our systems – at individual and collective levels – so they are aligned with ecological realities. Otherwise, history will repeat itself and we’ll eventually have another ecological collapse.

How will future generations look at our time?

Since I am the one imagining it, I obviously imagine it similar to how I already see it.

I see a civilization formed at a time (1600-1800) with far fewer people and less advanced technology. I see a civilization with systems that do not take ecological realities into account. I see people confused about this and trying to live life as usual. I see people not taking this seriously enough, perhaps because they assume there is still time and others will deal with it.

I see heroes: I see environmental activists. I see young people and their school strikes. I see people who think deeply about this. I see people who develop alternative economic systems. I see people implementing solutions. These are the heroes of future generations.

I also imagine it will look weird how some people today see sustainability and environmentalism as naive and impractical. In reality, it’s the only way forward. It’s the only way for us to survive and thrive.

As science has shown us for decades, sustainability is the only realistic way forward, and that requires deep systems changes. (Far beyond what’s envisioned even by many in environmentalism and sustainability.)

And if anyone is out of touch with reality, it’s the ones who want to continue as before, or the ones who assume that technology alone is sufficient, or that small adjustments here and there are all that’s needed. That looks like wishful thinking. It looks like denial.

Priorities & our ecological crisis

We all have priorities, whether we are aware of them or not.

And our life and actions show us our priorities, whether they match what we think they are or not.

OUR COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOR IN THE FACE OF OUR CURRENT ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

At a collective level, it’s clear that our priority is business as usual. We collectively behave as if nothing unusual is happening. We collectively behave as if we are not in the middle of a human-created ecological crisis of enormous consequences. We collectively behave as if the messages from scientists have little to no weight or importance.

Why is that? It may be for many reasons. Most people prioritize day-to-day activities and tasks. Most have a political identity and are reluctant to switch their vote to politicians that take ecological crisis more seriously. We see that others don’t prioritize it, so we assume the situation is not very serious and follow their example. Politicians typically operate within a timeframe of just a few years, not decades and centuries. Many people don’t take things very seriously unless they feel it in their own lives. Some may think we still have enough time, that we are adaptable and will manage. Some also go into denial, dismiss the collective warnings from scientists, and rationalize their dismissal.

WHAT MOTIVATES US TO CHANGE OUR PRIORITIES?

At both individual and collective levels, we continually clarify our priorities, reprioritize, and reorganize our life to align with these new priorities. It happens all the time and mostly in small and almost unnoticeable ways.

Major reprioritizing usually happens first when we viscerally get it as absolutely necessary. It may happen when faced with a serious crisis. When life shows us our situation has dramatically changed, or that we need to face a reality we previously ignored or downplayed.

It happens when life shakes us out of our habitual patterns and priorities.

A MORE REALISTIC SET OF COLLECTIVE PRIORITIES

If we would take our ecological situation seriously, how would that change our priorities? What would a more realistic set of collective priorities look like?

Here is just one example, as it comes to me:

Take a long view on our situation and in politics. Plan for decades and centuries ahead. Make policies where we take into account the interests of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their children.

Include the interests of all beings when we make decisions. Our fate is intimately connected, so this is in our own interest. Implement policies that take the interest of all life into account.

Future generations and non-human life are voiceless, so we need to speak for them. Not only for their sake, but for our own. Their fate is intertwined with our own.

If these giving voice to the voiceless was our real priority, it would in itself change a lot and put us on our path to a more sustainable civilization. Taking the big picture in terms of time and ecosystems does a lot. It would ripple into all areas of society, including the economy, philosophy, education, production, transportation, and everything else.

For instance, it would likely lead to assigning advocates for those without a voice – future generations, non-human beings, and ecosystems. To give them real power in political and business decisions. To make the rights of future generations, non-human beings, and ecosystems law.

It would transform our economic system to take ecological realities into account. Our current economic thinking is a fantasyland where nature is seen as only a resource for humans and a place to put waste, and it assumes an unlimited capacity for both. That fantasy is reflected in our current economic system. These new priorities, if taken seriously, would transform our thinking about the economy and our economic systems to be more grounded in reality, which is something we all would benefit from.

WHAT I AM DOING IN MY LIFE

What I am doing in my own life about this?

I look at my life to see my actual priorities. How do I spend my time? What does that say about my priorities? I take a sober look at this and try to be kind with myself. Being realistic about my real priorities, as reflected in my life and how I spend my time, is the first step and can in itself lead to changes and reprioritization.

I am also in a fortunate situation. I was able to buy a sizeable piece of land in the Andes mountains, and. we are now exploring how to use a small part of it for buildings and food production, and support the rest to rewild and return to a more vibrant and diverse state benefitting innumerable beings.

We are also exploring ways to be a little more self-reliant with the essentials. We are looking into solar energy. We are taking steps to collect and store rainwater and use this for our own use and food production. We may gradually expand food production over time. (In a social crisis, which will likely come as a consequence of the ecological crisis, being more self-reliant will alleviate the burden on the local government and it may also be that they won’t be able to reliably provide basic services to everyone.)

Our local community is our greatest resource, so we are also connecting and creating ties with neighbors. And especially those who are like-minded and those who grow food and know how to make and fix things. Self-reliance and resilience mainly happen at a local and regional community level.

We are preparing for a future where our ecological crisis, and all the social consequences of it, is far more acute and severe. And we are learning and plan on sharing what we learn with anyone interested.

We are also considering creating a small eco-community on the land. We’ll see. We need to get to know the land better first.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to take these kinds of steps, so we are also keeping in mind supporting those less fortunate, in whatever small ways we can.

And this is not because we are very noble. We are very flawed human beings.

This is because we are aware that this is in our own self-interest. It’s in our self-interest to live in a more sustainable way and create ties with our neighbors. It’s in our own interest to support those less fortunate, in the small ways we can, since we all live in the same society.

And in terms of ecology, we all – all beings – share the same collective fate. We are all impacted by the thriving or deterioration of our local, regional, and global ecosystems.

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Our ecological bottleneck and personal decisions

Since my teens, I have been passionate about sustainability, deep ecology, simple living, and so on. (And worked in that area for several years.)

For decades, we have known that we are creating an ecological bottleneck for ourselves and what we have seen so far is only the beginning. We are entering an era of continuous ecological crises with extreme weather, continued extinction of species, unraveling ecosystems, famine, mass migration, and so on. And a lot of people will die, perhaps most of humanity. (And, as usual, those already worst off will be hit the hardest.)

So what do we do at a personal level?

In my case, there is a lot of grieving, also from seeing the loss of ecological vibrancy and diversity in the areas I know the best, including at the cabin in Norway which is in the middle of a large forested area. (Which soon hopefully will become a national park.)

I have chosen a relatively simple life, relying on less than most people do. (Although I do travel, and I love delicious simple food.)

I have learned to grow my own food, build with local materials and traditions, and so on.

And I am planning for the future. My partner and I have land in the Andes mountains where we can cover most of life’s essentials locally. We are building using local materials and building techniques. We have water and will provide for more natural water storage. We’ll grow food. We are creating good connections with the neighbors and the local community, which is our greatest and most essential resource. We live in a place where heating and cooling is not necessary. (Especially with good building design.)

We are very fortunate in that we have resources to choose where to live, buy land, build a house, and do all of this. Most people in the world are unable to do that, either because they don’t have the resources or because they are tied to where they already are for family or work reasons.

In addition to this (and perhaps it’s a bit excessive), we are going to a place in Europe next week to check it out. It’s a place that’s geographically isolated. They have plenty of water. The soil is very fertile. It’s relatively protected from sea level rise. (Which will be several meters or tens of meters this century.) And here too, there is no need for heating or cooling. It may be another place to live as the current ecological and humanitarian crisis worsens.

Personally, I cannot do much about the bigger picture. But I can make good decisions for myself and my family. And I can create mutually beneficial ties with those in the local community. And that’s perhaps enough.

There is also another thing I am doing, and that’s what I typically write about here. The less I am caught up in issues and traumas, I am better able to deal with change, and I am hopefully able to make slightly better decisions.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT OUR HUMAN-MADE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

Why are we in this situation?

And why does it seem unlikely that we can prevent massive ecological and social problems?

Many like to talk about greed, blame others, and so on.

To me, it looks different and much simpler.

We live in a system where much of what’s destructive for our planet is easy and inexpensive to do, at individual and collective levels. So just by living our daily lives we contribute to the destruction of our ecosystems. (And our future.)

Why did these systems come in place? Not because of any malevolent intention, but because they made sense at the time they were created. They come about centuries ago when nature, for all practical purposes, was unlimited. It was an unlimited source of resources, and it had an unlimited capacity to absorb waste.

What’s the solution?

The solution is to create systems – economic systems and systems of transportation, production, energy, and so on – where what’s easy and attractive to do is also beneficial for our ecosystems. It’s very possible to do this. Many people have developed and explored ways to do it.

What we need is the collective will.

Are we going to find this collective will? Certainly not soon enough to avoid a lot of problems, because that “soon enough” was several decades ago.

Will we find it at all? I am not sure.

As long as we misdiagnose the problem (through blaming greed, others, etc.), we won’t find the real solutions. And as long as we assume that piecemeal solutions (recycling, electric cars) are enough, we won’t find the collective will.

My guess is that most of humanity will have to die off before the ones left collectively seriously address the real causes and start implementing real solutions, and even then we may not since our reduced numbers again allow us to use human systems that don’t take ecological systems into account.

It’s all very simple. Our human systems exists within, depend on, and are part of the larger ecological systems. That means that our human systems – at all levels – need to take ecological realities into account.

If they don’t – and if we have a large population and powerful technology– we will inevitably damage and destroy large parts of the ecological systems we are part of and depend on.

Why don’t more people do more about it?

I suspect many feel they can’t do much on their own so they choose to focus on their own day-to-day lives instead. They may trust that if their leaders don’t take it seriously, it’s because it’s not necessary (yet). Politicians are typically elected for just a few years at a time, so they focus on that timeframe rather than a timeframe that goes over decades or centuries.

I also suspect that more are concerned about this than is sometimes apparent. To others, it may appear that I too am just living a day-to-day life without too much concern about this. (Which is partially true.) What they may not know is the grief I am experiencing over what’s happening with the ecosystems and what will happen with humanity. And they may also not know that when we bought land in the Andes and are building a house there, and are also considering buying something in a location in Europe, it’s with this in mind.

Why do I call it ecological bottleneck?

Because we are in a metaphorical bottleneck right now, and it will continue to tighten in the next decades and perhaps centuries. It’s a bottleneck created by our current economic and other systems which do not take ecological realities into account. Many species won’t survive. (Many are already lost.) Many ecosystems will be severely degraded and damaged, and some will be gone. And as mentioned above, I suspect much of humanity won’t make it through either.

Post-doom

In a sense, the doom is certain. We are already in it and it will get worse. The question is how we will deal with it. I suspect many countries will close down their borders, perhaps even within the EU. A lot of collective and individual resources will be used to deal with an ongoing series of ecological crises. And as usual in a time of crisis, many will focus mostly on their own survival while some will look at the bigger picture and try to find solutions that work for everyone, and there will likely be an increased polarization between the two.

Wolfwalkers & our relationship with the wild in nature and ourselves

I loved this movie in many different ways. And as any good story that deals with primal archetypes and archetypal dynamics, it can be interpreted at many different levels.

It can be seen as a metaphor for how humans treat each other, including how the English have treated the Irish. It can be seen as a more literal story about how humans treat nature and the wild. And it can be seen as a mirror for dynamics in ourselves, and how we civilize ourselves at the expense of the primal aliveness in ourselves.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WILD

It’s easy to imagine a history of the human relationship with the wild, and it will – by necessity – be somewhat speculative when it comes to the early history.

Before agriculture and civilization as we think of it, people lived in nature, with nature, and from nature. They may have had more of a partnership relationship with nature and the wild, and they likely respected nature out of necessity. They had a more nature-oriented spirituality. They didn’t have much property so they didn’t have much hierarchy. They may have had a more matriarchal culture. The inevitable damage to nature was limited since their numbers were small and their technology simple, and they also moved if they needed to which limited their impact on the areas they were in.

With agriculture, this all changed. We could accumulate wealth. We had more division of labor, tasks, and skills. We developed a hierarchy. The ones higher up in the hierarchy developed a wish to control others and the general population. We got culture as we know it. We got more removed sky-God religions. We got a more patriarchal culture.

We lived in tamed landscapes or towns and cities. With agriculture, we depended more on tamed nature. We lived more distanced from the wild. We depend much less on the wild. The wild became “other” to us. For those higher up in the hierarchy, it became in their interest to also tame the population.

We learned to tame nature and ourselves, and find this comforting and the wild scary and unsettling and perhaps even evil.

Our human relationship with the wild shifted. We went from living in and from the wild to becoming distanced from it and viewing it often as something scary and suspicious. We learned that taming ourselves and nature was safer.

WHAT DOES TAMING OURSELVES MEAN?

We know what it means to tame nature. It means to make the wild into agricultural land, towns, and cities. Replace wild forests with planted forests. To kill any animals – typically large predators – we see as competitors or any danger to ourselves. And so on.

But what does it mean that we tame ourselves?

In one sense, it just means that we learn to live with others and in civilization. We learn to express our feelings with words instead of through actions that may harm others. We learn to cooperate. We learn to take others into consideration when we make our choices and live our life. This is natural for us since we are a social species and it doesn’t necessarily come at much or any cost. 

In another sense, it can mean that we tame ourselves at the cost of our aliveness, sense of connection and meaning, and authenticity. This happens when we take taming ourselves in a slightly misguided way. We may deny our emotions or needs, wishes, and desires instead of acknowledging or expressing these and finding ways to get our needs met. We may disconnect ourselves from our body and nature and feel disconnected, ungrounded, and aimless. All of this tends to come as a consequence of believing painful beliefs and identities and perceiving and living as if they are true. And these painful beliefs and identities tend to come from our culture or subculture. They are passed on and shared by many if not most humans in our culture, and some may be common across cultures – especially in our modern world.

HOW DO WE REWILD OURSELVES?

Rewilding nature is a popular topic these days, and very much needed for the health of nature and ourselves and our culture.

But how do we rewild ourselves?

There are several approaches, and what works best is probably a combination of the ones that resonate the most with us – and that may change over time.

We can connect with nature through spending time in nature, gardening, spending time with non-human species, learning about nature, spending time in the wilderness, learning to survive in the wilderness, spending time at a bonfire, looking at the stars, and so on.

We can connect with our body by walking barefoot, receiving bodywork, doing different forms of yoga, learning to recognize and take seriously the signals from our body, and so on.

We can engage in nature-centered spirituality and rituals, including the Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy.

We can shift our worldview from one of separation to connection and oneness, for instance through deep ecology, the epic of evolution, the universe story, ecospirituality, system views, integral models (AQAL), and so on.

We can engage in actions on behalf of other species, the Earth, and future generations. These may be small and “invisible” everyday actions or more visible in the world. These may be actions to stop damage, change our culture, or envision and implement life-centered alternatives.

We can learn to notice and acknowledge our emotions and wishes, needs, and desires. We can find ways to express this and meet our needs in a kind way. We can find a more authentic way to live that’s kind to ourselves and others.

We can identify fears we have of rewilding ourselves.  What’s the worst that could happen?  What does my culture tell me could happen? What do I find when I examine these stories? What’s more true for me? How is it to meet and be with the fear and allow it as it is? How is it to find love for it? 

We can find healing for any emotional issues that create a sense of separation and lack of connection, aliveness, groundedness, and meaning.

We can identify and investigate the views and beliefs that create a sense of separation – with ourselves, others, nature, and the universe as a whole. We can identify beliefs passed on through our culture. We can find them in ourselves and inquire into them and find more freedom from them and what’s more true and honest for us.

We can connect with and taste the wholeness we are at a human level, through a combination of meditation, body-centered practices, emotional healing, and more.

We can explore what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. At one level, we are a human being in the world. And what do I find when I explore what I am in my own first-person experience? I may find I more fundamentally are capacity for the world as it appears to me. And what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. I may find myself as the oneness this human self and the wider world happen within and as.

This is not only for the benefit of ourselves. It benefits our culture. It may help our species survive. And it will likely benefit other species, this living planet, and future generations.

Note: This article itself is an example of rewilding ourselves. I saw the movie three or four weeks ago, made a few notes, and allowed it to rest. Today, I was moved to write the article and it came out easily and naturally, without much if any effort.

When I saw the movie, I noticed I wasn’t ready to write the final article. I knew that pushing it would be uncomfortable and likely wouldn’t give a good result. So I allowed it to rest and digest on its own, and I waited for it to come to fruition in me and move me to write it.

I planted the seed, waited, and it sprouted in its own time in the form of this article.

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How to deal with climate anxiety & grief?

More people seem to experience climate crisis anxiety and grief, often from a combination of the changes we experience personally and what we know from scientists. And it goes beyond just the climate crisis, it’s connected with the larger ecological crisis we are in the middle of.

As usual, there are several sides to this.

An opportunity to heal person wounds

One is that our current climate crisis can trigger our own personal wounds. Some of the grief and anxiety we experience may have roots early in our life, and it’s good to address this. In this way, the climate crisis triggers something in us that is in need of healing anyway, and if we are willing and able to invite in healing for it, it can be a great gift for us.

The beauty inherent in our grief and anxiety

The anxiety and grief we experience from the loss of ecosystems – and the loss of them as they were – is natural and healthy. It shows we are consciously and emotionally connected to the wider living systems that we already are physically connected with, embedded within, and dependent on for our survival and well-being. It comes from love, so there is an immense beauty inherent in this anxiety and grief.

It’s important to acknowledge and honor our anxiety and grief, and see the inherent beauty in it.

Practical steps in the world

What practical steps can we take in our life and the world?

It’s perhaps most helpful to engage in a constructive way, even if it’s something small. It can be something local, doable, and where we see the effects relatively quickly. For instance, composting, eating more local food and lower on the food chain, switching part of the lawn to wildflowers or food-producing plants, make a habit of doing something else – dance, go into nature – when we notice an impulse to shop, joining a local group working on fun and constructive projects, and so on.

We can also engage in visions of the future we want, and share it with others. We can do this through writing, art, reading, learning about alternatives, and perhaps even get started on this in our own life. For instance, and if we wanted to make a bigger step, we could join an ecovillage or ecovillage project.

It’s equally important to work on stopping the destruction and although some are cut out for this, it can also be draining unless we are very conscious of how we approach it. The more we see people as enemies, get focused on the destruction, expect quick results, go into victimhood and hopeless thought patterns, and so on, the easier we get burnt out. And the more we can avoid enemy-making, look at all the constructive signs and movements, keep the big and long term picture in mind, celebrate small victories, stay connected with nature and have a sense of connections with future generations, and so on, the more likely we are to avoid burnout.

Exploring it further for ourselves

We can also explore this further.

What stressful beliefs do I have about the climate crisis or the larger ecological crisis? What do I find when I explore these? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

What fears and identities are triggered? What do I find when I explore them? (Living Inquiries.)

How would it be to make a habit of releasing tension out of my system around this? (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises.)

How would it be to deeply acknowledge what comes up in me around it and intentionally connect with nature and past & future generations? And to do so with a group of similar-minded people? (Practices to Reconnect.)

How would it be to notice that it all – my thoughts and emotion and the world and the crisis – happen within and as what I am? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

Awake people don’t hurt life?

Awake people don’t hurt life.

Said to me a few days ago

Is it true that awake people don’t hurt life?

Not really. It’s more complex than that.

We still have hangups, wounds, trauma, and sometimes act on it like anyone else.

We still live in a social and economic system that’s deeply harmful to life and Earth, so our everyday life is harmful to life, Earth, and future generations.

At our human level, we are still a living organism that needs to eat other living organisms to survive. Even if we eat only fruits, nuts and vegetables, we still hurt life. (Just the production of these is often harmful because of modern agriculture.)

We are still a human being who makes mistakes, and who don’t know or cannot predict the consequences of our actions. We cannot really predict the local or short term consequences, and we certainly cannot predict the far-reaching and long term consequences.

There is another side to this, of course.

It’s probably true that we generally harm life less the more embodied awakening there is, especially if it’s combined with healing of emotional issues.

And in the bigger picture, it’s perhaps all Lila, the play of the divine, and nobody to get hurt and not really any hurt.

And yet, that’s no excuse to not live as well as we can, and minimize harm and support life as well as we can.

And there is yet another aspect to this. If we are very concerned about not hurting life (which is impossible although we can do or best to minimize it and make up for it), it may point to an emotional issue or a belief that’s not quite aligned with reality.

It’s natural and healthy to have it as a guide and orientation, but if it gets stressful and bordering on an obsession, it may be worth looking at a little more closely.

How to deal with ecological grief

Joanna Macy: Befriending our Despair

As our eco-systems keep unraveling, ecological grief will only go more into the mainstream as an experience and topic.

How do we deal with our ecological grief?

Here are some things I have found helpful for me:

Recognize it’s natural and even healthy. My ecological grief – for what I see happening locally and globally – is natural, understandable, and even healthy. It’s an expression of recognizing what’s happening. It comes from caring for myself, those close to me, humanity, future generations, non-human beings, species, ecosystems, and Earth a beautiful and amazing-beyond-comprehension living whole.

Share with likeminded people. Share as a confession.

Deep Ecology practices – like the Practices to Reconnect. These help us befriend our grief, find nourishment from our deep connection with all of life and past and future generations, and renew our hope and motivation for action. They can be done with a small group of friends or larger and more organized groups. I have led them myself with one or two other people and up to groups of ten or more.

Channeling the grief into action. This is not only how we transform society into a more Earth-centered one, but it also helps our own mental health. Even small actions are valuable, especially when I do it with others. (A while back, I helped start up neighborhood eco-teams and NWEI groups and these transformed people’s lives at many levels.)

I can support politicians and policies that help us transform into a more life-centered society. I can donate to organizations. I can make changes in my own life. I can join a local organization. I can communicate with politicians, businesses, and corporations. I can inform myself about what’s happening and win-win-win solutions. I can choose to focus on the solutions. I can envision the world I want to live with and share my vision.

I can choose to focus on systemic solutions because that’s where the problems are (not in individuals or “human nature”) and that’s also the best strategy for getting others on board (avoiding blaming individuals or particular groups of people).

Changing how I see it. I am not (only) an individual stressed out or in grief from witnessing the destruction of nature. I am nature reacting to its own destruction. And when I channel it into action, I am – quite literally – nature protecting itself. (Deep Ecology, ecopsychology, eco-spirituality, Deep Time, Big History, Universe Story, etc.)

Clear up stressful beliefs and identifications, and find healing for triggered emotional issues. When we respond to ecological destruction – whether it’s local or global – it inevitably ties into our own personal wounds and hangups. I can use my reaction to what’s going on in the world as a pointer to my own personal issues and I can explore and find healing for these. That not only improves my quality of life, it also makes me a more effective agent for change in the world. I act more from clarity and kindness and less from reactivity and wounds.

Taking in the “death of nature” and a synchronicity

I am at the cabin in Norway (by the lake Mosjøen in Enebakk), and a couple of nights ago, while falling asleep, I listened to an audiobook. The author talked about the loss of butterflies and other insect life at her home in Ireland, a gradual ecological devastation, the and the possibility of a very dystopian future for humanity.

I have been impacted by the same – the very obvious loss of insect life in Norway and corresponding loss of bird life and a variety of other animals and animals – and how it is just a small local expression of the global loss of biodiversity and nature.

In a very real sense, it’s a “death of nature” caused by us humans – and our current worldview of seeing ourselves as separate from nature, and a society that operates within frameworks that do not take limited ecological resources into account.

After listening to this description of loss butterflies and insects in general, I was unable to sleep.

I got up, and allowed the sadness, distress, and pain in the heart to be here and work on me. The more I am able to allow it all as it is, the more it is allowed to work on me and transform me.

As I took it in more deeply and fully, I felt something in me realigning with the reality of what’s happening, and there was also a sense of a deeper healing. I don’t know exactly what happened, and I don’t really need to know. (Perhaps we never can know fully.) Although painful, it was  a beautiful process.

The following day, there were a couple of synchronicities.

I found myself surrounded by a huge amount of insects when I was down by the lake in the evening. (I have noticed the loss of insect life at the cabin too, even if it is in relatively untouched wilderness and soon-to-be national park, and the corresponding loss of bird life is very noticeable.)

Later, I was down by the lake again to get water and saw several bats flying over the lake. (During the previous night, the absence of bats was one of the things that came to mind. I hadn’t seen any bats here for many years although they were abundant when I was a kid.)

It was as if life was telling me: Yes, it’s good you take in what’s happening – the possibility of a dystopian future for humans and many other species, and that there is already a dystopian present for many humans and other species

And also, see, there is hope. It’s worth working and fighting for a different future, one that is more life-centered. One that values life. One where humans organize themselves so what’s easy and attractive to do is also beneficial for other people, ecosystems, and future generations.

You know it’s possible. Help others see it’s possible.

The other climate change denial

When we talk about climate change (or climate crisis) denial, we usually mean denial of it happening or that it’s created by humans. Although this gets a lot of attention, it’s fortunately not so widespread. When it happens, it’s typically fueled by money from the fossil fuel industry, based on misinformation, and mostly involves people who – based on what they have heard and emotional reasoning – think they know better than people who have devoted their life to understanding and studying it.

There is another climate change denial that’s as or more important. This is the denial of the seriousness of the crisis we are in. It’s a denial not only if the seriousness of the climate crisis, but of the wider ecological crisis we are in.

Here are some of the views characterizing this denial:

It won’t be very serious. For decades, this was the default approach. Some years ago, I read news stories about a 10-30cm ocean level rise while anyone who had thought about it (the amount of land-based ice that would melt) realized it could easily be in the several meter range. 

Other things are more important. Again, this is a typical default view. Short-term interest are more important. Group interests are more important. We sometimes also assume that issues that are important – education, healthcare, infrastructure etc. – are more important. They are obviously important, but to prioritize it over creating a truly sustainable global culture and society is misguided. Currently, the young climate rebels are among those who really gets this and act on it. 

We have time. No, we don’t have time. We needed to make the changes yesterday, or a decade ago, or several decades ago. We can’t put it off. 

It requires only a few peripheral adjustments. No, it requires profound and deep systemic changes in all social systems, including economics (how we think about economics and our framework for it), transportation, energy production and use, education, and more. It requires deep changes in how we see ourselves in relation to the world as a whole and how this is reflected in our intellectual frameworks and social infrastructure. 

Others will do it. Others may take the lead, but we – each one of us – are required to participate. This is about humanity as a whole. 

It’s mainly about climate change. No, it’s equally or more about shrinking natural ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, toxins in air, water and soil, lack of clean drinking water, and social injustice. 

It’s true that the denial of the climate crisis – or denying it’s created by human activity — is serious and needs to be addressed.

But the real climate denial is the one most of us participate in. It’s the denial of the seriousness and acuteness of the issue and that it’s about a lot more than just climate change.

Why wolves?

There is an ongoing debate in norway about whether we should have wolves or not, and how many. The fault lines – as so often these days – seem to go between the urban and/or more educated, and the rural and/or less educated.

Here are some of the arguments against wolves, and my comments.

They take livestock. They do, but they take far fewer than trains, traffic, and disease. And the farmers receive compensation from the state if any are taken.

They are a risk to humans. No, they are virtually no risk to humans. The real risks are what we all know about, including traffic, suicide, poor lifestyle and food choices, and much more.

They are evil and scary. Yes, we may culturally have learned to see them as evil and project our shadow onto them, and they may trigger fear in us. That’s no reason to get rid of them. (I suspect this is what’s really going on since the apparently rational arguments are not very strong.)

And here are some arguments for having wolves.

For the benefit of the wolves. They have as much right to be here as we do. They are sentient beings just as us and wish to live.

For the ecosystems. Our ecosystems evolved with large predators, and healthy and thriving ecosystems depend on large predators.

For our benefit. Just as ecosystems, we need the wild. We evolved with and in the wild, and with high level predators. We need it for our own health and well being. We need it as a reminder of who we are, in an evolutionary context. We need it to feel alive.

Why are people really against wolves? I suspect primal fear of wolves is one aspect. Specifically, fear of losing animals to wolves may trigger a more primal fear than losing them to illness or trains. Another may be instinctual competition. Humans and wolves are both large predators, and it’s natural to try to eliminate the competition.

In my view, the arguments against don’t hold up well. And the arguments for are far more important – for them, for us, for nature as a whole.

As usual, I can add that this view is very predictable for someone with my background. I grew up in a well educated urban family. I love nature. I want to consider the rights and needs of other beings, including nonhuman species. I am liberal in terms of politics. If I had grown up as a sheep farmer in an area with wolves, my views may well have been different. And that doesn’t mean I won’t speak up for wolves. They need someone to speak for them.

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Book trailer: Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth

Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth Book Trailer from Working with Oneness on Vimeo.

SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY: THE CRY OF THE EARTH

Contributors include: Chief Oren Lyons, Thomas Berry, Thich Nhat Hanh, Chief Tamale Bwoya, John Stanley & David R. Loy from EcoBuddhism, Joanna Macy of the Work That ReconnectsSandra Ingerman, Fr. Richard Rohr, Wendell Berry, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Brian Swimme, Sister Miriam MacGillis from, Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiva, Dr. Susan Murphy, Pir Zia Inayat-Kahn, Winona LaDuke, Bill Plotkin, Geneen Marie Haugen, Jules Cashford, and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.

John Oliver on the climate change debate

John Oliver points out something I am repeatedly puzzled over, especially in the US media. Instead of reporting surveys as “one in four US citizens are wrong about climate change” or “don’t get climate change”, they say “one in four don’t believe in climate change”. And perhaps in the interest of creating drama and debate where there really isn’t one, they make it appear as if there is a debate to be had on that topic. The real debate is what do we do about it, and why are some dragging their feet? In other words, the US media play right into the hands of the corporations who think they have something to gain short term by confusing the debate. Shouldn’t the role of the media be to cut through that nonsense? Of course, the mainstream media is largely owned by the same who think they have something to gain by confusing the topic, so that may be a simple explanation of what’s going on.

Since I was a schoolboy in the ’80s, I have thought this whole debate is nonsense. It doesn’t matter if climate change is happening or if it’s human made (although there isn’t much doubt about either). We still have to shift from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources. We still have to dramatically change our economical system and thinking to take ecological realities into account. We still have to create systemic changes so what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, corporations, and society – is also what’s good for life in the short and long term. We still have to change how we do transportation, waste, food production, and more. We still have to change our worldview and how we see ourselves in relation to the rest of nature and the Earth. There is no debate there. It has to happen. It’s a matter of our own survival. (Independent of the whole climate change topic.)

 

A collective spiritual emergency, and possibly dark night

Spiritual emergencies happen at individual and collective levels.

A spiritual emergency is a crisis with a spiritual component. It may stretch and open us up to new ways of perceiving and being in the world. It may also be experienced as deeply challenging, requiring more of us than we thought was possible. And it eventually requires us to act from insight and love instead of from our old fear based patterns.

A dark night is a particular form of spiritual emergency. It may involve loss in many forms…. of situations, roles, hopes, dreams, and even fears. Old identifications are seen through or worn off. Wounds and traumas surface to be healed. To our conscious mind, it may seem that grace is lost and everything is moving in the wrong direction.

We are now collectively headed into a spiritual emergency, a spiritual emergency shared by humanity as a whole. We may even be headed into a collective dark night.

The Earth is going through major changes. We are about to face the consequences of our western worldview and how we have seen ourselves in relationship to Earth.

Ecosystems unravel. Large number of species go extinct. Water, soil and air is poisoned. There will be more frequent and more serious regional, and possibly global, water and food shortages.

And all of that is because we have seen ourselves as separate from the Earth, and the Earth as unlimited for extracting resources and dumping waste and toxins. We have organized ourselves collectively, in all areas of society, without taking ecological realities into account.

Facing the increasingly obvious and tangible consequences of this is, in a very real way, a collective and shared spiritual crisis. It forces us to re-evaluate our priorities. It requires us to examine and profoundly change our worldview and how we see ourselves in relation to the Earth, and to current and future generations of all species. It requires us to reorganize ourselves in very practical ways, so that what’s easy and attractive to do also supports life in a deep sense.

This spiritual crisis has already taken the form of a dark night for some, and it may do so for many more in the near future.

The Earth is merciless. It mirrors back to us our relationship to it in a very tangible way. And as with any spiritual crisis, and any dark night, this is also grace and an invitation to find a new life, to find a new way of perceiving ourselves and the world, and a new way of being in the world.

 

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We do what’s easy and attractive

We do what’s easy and attractive, so why not work with it?

As a society, we have organized ourselves so what’s easy and attractive to do is often harmful for the larger social and ecological whole. These designs made sense when they were created, many of them during the industrial revolution, but they don’t make sense anymore. So instead, we can organize ourselves so what’s easy and attractive to do is beneficial for ourselves, the larger social and ecological whole, and future generations. We can, for instance, tax use of natural resources instead of work, and include the real social and ecological cost in the price of products and services. It’s not only possible, it’s essential that we do it.

As an individual, I can work with the same dynamics. I do what’s easy and attractive. For instance, as long as I believe (perceive) there is something positive in beliefs, I’ll go into beliefs. So here, I can inquire into the dynamics of beliefs and find what’s actually going on. When I see and feel the discomfort inherent in beliefs and contrast this with the comfort inherent in reality – in not knowing, no foothold, being experience etc. then I’m naturally drawn to the latter.

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Justification and fullness of stories

It is very understandable when we try to justify our actions. We are just trying to protect a particular self image, often as “good”, and to find acceptance from ourselves and others and fit in.

There is fortunately a very simple alternative, and that is to find a fullness of stories around what we initially may wish to justify. And to deliberately include both “good” and “bad” stories in a conventional sense.

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Quick boost in well-being from outdoors activities

Just five minutes of exercise in a “green space” such as a park can boost mental health, researchers claim.

There is growing evidence that combining activities such as walking or cycling with nature boosts well-being.

In the latest analysis, UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies and found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.

– from the BBC article Green exercise quickly boosts mental health

We all (or most of us!) know this from our own experience. And yet, it is good to have it conformed by research, and also explore it in more detail. For instance, through these studies they found the most benefit from the first few minutes of outdoor activities, an additional boost if there is water nearby, and the largest effect for young people and those with mental health problems (they have more room for improvement as well).

Another article is available from Environmental News.

Wolf!

wolf

There is a pitifully small band of wolves in Norway, and still some folks are afraid and want them killed.

It seems so thoroughly idiotic. No human has been killed by wolves in recorded history. The few sheep that are killed are generously compensated for by the government.

And we chose and accept far greater risks all the time, for instance every time we use a car, or use toxic chemicals in our homes or in the yard, or allow bees and wasps in nature (a significant number dies each year from stings). Most obviously, we chose and accept far greater risks through how we organize ourselves as a society, in ways that are not aligned with ecological realities (ecological footprints way over what the Earth can support, economical models and policies that ignore embeddedness in ecosystems, huge gaps between rich and poor, and so on).

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Indexes of thrivability and well-being

There is general agreement that GNP alone is a poor measure of how well we are doing. It is limited to measuring the flow of money only, whether it is used for wars or schools, and it leaves out many other factors equally or more important to our well-being.

A good index would probably include some of the following:

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Thomas Berry (1916-2009)

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(Photo: Drew Dellinger)

Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the universe as we now understand this story through empirical knowledge. Within this functional cosmology, we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis. This story is a numinous revelatory story that could evoke the vision and the energy required to bring not only ourselves but the entire planet into a new order of magnificence.

Thomas Berry. Catholic priest, author, geologican, and one of the foremost figures in ecospirituality and evolutionary spirituality, died this morning.

See a tribute from Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow, his official website, and this website dedicated to this work. I highly recommend his books.

Synchronicity at play: I posted a link to Facebook on Thomas Berry, and the first of the two security check/captcha words was – honest truth – lila.

Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute.

Arne Næss

arne_naess

Arne Næss died yesterday, 96 years old. He was a Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, and most known internationally as one of the founders of deep ecology.

He is easily among the five people who have influenced me the most, and I was fortunate enough to see him speak several times, and also be in personal communication with him a few years back.

His philosophy reflected and flowed from his life.

And that philosophy was unusually and brilliantly clear. Always practical. Profoundly life centered. And as himself, innocent and child-like in its playfulness – especially in his later years.

Update: Arne Næss, Norwegian Philosopher, Dies at 96 from NY Times.

Update 2: He was beloved by the Norwegian people, and received a state sponsored funeral attended by the prime minister and members of the royal family. There is something beautiful – and profoundly right – in that happening for a life-centered eco-philosopher….

🙂

Here is an excerpt from The Call of the Mountain, a documentary about Arne Næss.

From our foreign correspondent

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A great little article at the Observer website by a friend of mine, about gardening and its intersection with community, ecology, spirit, politics and more. It is a reminder for me of my own passion for and immersion in that world some years ago, now faded into the background, but still there waiting to come more into my life again.

Food pragmatics

A post on food dogmatism by c4 reminds me that being pragmatic about food is more peaceful, and also, in the long run, probably more effective.

There are many good reasons for eating vegetarian, including ecology (less land used, less antibiotics used), health (helps many aspects of our health), and concerns for our fellow creatures. (Would I want other creatures to suffer for a short lived enjoyment for myself? No.)

And there are also many good reasons for being flexible about our food habits, such as our relationships and, sometimes, our health.

Which is why I often say I eat 95% vegetarian when someone asks me. I eat mostly vegetarian when I cook my own food (rare occasions with smaller amounts of meat), and I’ll eat whatever is put in front of me when I am with others. (I also try to eat organic, local and free range as much as possible, and when I eat with others, I go for mostly the non-meat parts of the meal if I serve myself.)

There are many reasons why it makes sense to not be too dogmatic about food. Relationships is the obvious one. Do I see food choices as more important than my relationships? No. Can I find ways to balance out the two if I am pragmatic about it? Yes.

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Caught up in details, missing the big picture

operaen.jpg

There is a new opera being built in Oslo, and the big discussion is whether they should have used the white marble they decided on, which is great for statues and interiors but a nightmare for exteriors, or good old Norwegian granite, which is more appropriate in terms of maintenance and because it is local.

What very few has mentioned is the obvious question: what happens when the sea levels rise? If current trends continues, and the models are even close to being accurate, the sea level will rise several meters within a few decades, and it seems clear that the building has not been designed with that in mind. The architect’s presentation above is not after a several meter sea level rise, it is before, under current conditions.

I guess they built it on the same principle as sand art: something to be enjoyed very temporarily. How post modern of them.

Alex dead

irene_parrots.jpg

Alex, the parrot studied by Irene Pepperberg, is dead. I don’t know why this story – among all the other news in the world – brings up sadness, but it is probably because I have an especially soft spot for the lives of animals, and how they have been and still are treated by humans. The other species we share this planet with are one of the remaining groups to be included into the circle of us.

Alex, and many other animals studied these days, show us that many other species are not only very similar to us emotionally (why wouldn’t they be, when we share ancestors, when we share biology related to emotions, and when we display similar signs of emotions in similar situations?) but also cognitively.

In science, we justify experiments on animals (as substitute for humans) scientifically because they biologically are so similar to us, and yet justify it ethically because they are different from us. In science or society at large, very few point to that discrepancy, probably because it is convenient to not look at it too closely.

And including other species into the circle of us does not mean that we all need to become vegetarians or that we release all animals from captivity. It only means moving in the direction of treating them with more respect, remembering that they too have emotions and some cognitive abilities, and that they too want to avoid suffering. They are not so different from us in that way.

The golden rule applies here too. How would I have wanted to be treated if the roles were reversed, if I was that cow out on pasture, or that rabbit in the science lab, or those elephants losing their territory to humans?

How specifically will this look in real life? How will it influence how we treat animals in a range of different settings? That is something that will look different in different circumstances, and something that will evolve and change as we do.

Edge effect

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(Thanks to Tom for suggesting fractals as another example)

In ecosystems, and most other systems, the edges are often the most rich and fertile.

We have the land ecosystem, and then the ocean ecosystem, and at the edge between the two there are representatives for both, and for the edge as well. Instead of characteristics from only one system, there are three: one, the other, and whatever emerges uniquely in the intersection of the two.

And so it is with awakening as well.

We have one system which is the awakened one. Another, which is the deluded one (taking oneself as a separate self). And at the edge of the two, there are characteristics of one, the other, and the uniqueness of the edge.

We get to explore a rich landscape, spanning all three ecosystems.

(In systems language, the awakened and deluded situations are attractor states, habitual states the system falls into… but in in this ecosystem analogy, it fits better to think of them as different landscapes or systems.)

Implications of rising sea levels

We know that the sea levels will rise, possibly 10 meters (30 feet) or more, and possibly within this century. (Greenland ice sheet=6.5 meters rise, west Antarctica ice sheet=8 meters, interglacial periods=20 meters rise – source: usgs), Even the early phase of this rise will have a major impact on many of the most populated cities and areas of the world.

At the same time, it seems that the implications of this is not taken seriously yet, including by investors (it will soon make much less sense to own property close to current sea levels), urban planners, insurance companies (who insures property that is more and more likely to be flooded), home owners (that great ocean front property may not be so attractive), and also politicians (having to deal with economical impacts of rising sea levels, including building dikes and rebuilding areas of cities on higher ground) and international organizations (having to deal with migrations and relocation of large number of people displaced by the rising sea levels.) And as with so many other things, it will impact those with less resources more. Wealthy countries and cities can stave off much of the impact through technology and engineering, but poorer areas do not have that option.

The top photo shows ice covering of the north pole in September 2005, which is the smallest ice cap recorded.

Manhattan if (when?) the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica melts.

Biocracy

As Aldo Leopold pointed out, one aspect of cultural evolution seems to be a movement towards wider circles of concern, care and compassion. As our numbers increases and technology develops, this is not only in our own self-interest, but essential for our survival.

In a seamless planet, and with the impact of our current civilization, we cannot make decisions while leaving out the effects on ecosystems and future generations.

Our current ideal of democracy, which is a form of tyranny of one generation of humans, has been a phase of our cultural evolution, and one that is now outdated. We need to move from a democracy to a biocracy. A process of decision making where the interest of nonhuman species, local and global ecosystems, and future generations are taken into account, because their interest is our interest.

In the seamless whole of Earth, the health of the whole and the parts are intimately connected, as is the health of current and future generations.

Our health and existence as individuals and society is dependent on the health of local and global ecosystems, and the health of these ecosystems are – now – dependent on the health and maturity of individuals and human society. In the same way, the health of future generations is dependent on the health and maturity of our current human generations, and life-centered choices of our current generation is dependent on taking future generations into account (bringing them into our circle of concern).