by Carolyn Baker
All things die and all things live forever;
But our task is to die,
To die making roads,
Roads over the sea.
Recently a reader of my website asked me to clarify the difference between resignation and surrender. When faced with catastrophic climate change, near-term extinction, and the worst emission of radiation in the history of the world from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, how should we respond? The reader found himself swimming in deep despair and feeling very much like giving up—perhaps even ceasing the breast strokes of vigorous swimming, plunging further into the despair, and intentionally inhaling as deeply as possible. Well, that would be suicide, and he didn’t feel ready for that—at least not in that moment, and the word “surrender” kept coming to mind, but isn’t that the same as giving up?
This morning’s Guardian headline reads “Fukushima Warning: Danger Level At Nuclear Plant Jumps To ‘Serious’,” and the Wall St. Journal states unequivocally that ‘TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) Has Lost Control.’ Just a few days ago I posted on my site Guy McPherson’s latest piece “19 Ways Climate Change Is Feeding On Itself,” and Washington’s Blog screams, “West Coast Of North America To Be Hit Hard By Fukushima Radiation,” complete with a detailed map of the ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre which is bringing Japanese radiation to the West Coast of North America. Why would I not want to give up? Why would I not want to ingest a large dosage of ‘Fuckidall’ or go eat 700 pounds of chocolate? Go to the gym today? Are you freakin’ kidding me?
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I occasionally hear people saying things like, “Well, we’re not going to be here after 2030 by which time near-term extinction is ‘guaranteed’ so what I eat or drink or smoke or do or don’t do doesn’t matter.”
That’s called resignation or giving up, and from my perspective, indulging in it, even if I feel compelled to do so, is a cowardly, delusional kind of devil’s bargain that essentially affirms that I have no purpose here except breathing air and ingesting food and water. Resignatio in Latin connotes submission, acquiescence, and compliance. Is this not the same as surrender? Actually, it’s not.
Hopefully, everyone reading these words, like me, is not willing to go gently, quietly, or complacently into the abyss that our species has created. If we do—if at this unprecedented time in the history of our planet we resign ourselves to defining our existence only in terms of the physical plane, as if we have absolutely no connection with anything eternal or constant, then we are inexorably as foolish as the purveyors of industrial civilization who are engaged in rendering this planet uninhabitable.
Surrender is fundamentally different from resignation because unlike the latter, it is not a passive act. Surrender is always a choice, and in our “dead man walking” status on planet Earth, we may be able to change nothing in the external milieu, but we have agency in how we meet our fate. Certainly we have the option and the right to muddle our way into oblivion like comatose inebriates, and countless millions will choose and are choosing that path.
Mentally, I keep returning to Nazi death camp survivors and the unspoken, seemingly feckless choices they made on a daily basis that allowed them to prevail. Perhaps a drawing made in the mud or jokes they furtively told to one another or a decision that every day they would find meaning somewhere, somehow in the hellish drudgery and brutality of their lives.
Giving up is easy. Surrender takes enormous courage and self-regard—an abiding conviction that one’s human dignity is worth it, even if one is bereft of family and friends. Surrender acknowledges that in the last half of 2013, the human species is marching obliviously in its own funeral procession and that perhaps one can choose instead to march consciously, all the while asking questions that matter. Questions like: What is left for me to do here? How do I most wisely use the time I have left? What is my work in these remaining years? What gifts do I have that I must give? What brings meaning to the lives of people around me? What brings meaning to me?
As people approach their own demise, life review is crucial. How did I live? How did I love? What were the very best moments? What were the worst? And most importantly: What did I learn? Who did I become as a result of the wise choices I made and the ones that weren’t so wise? Invariably, there will be grief, and impending funerals are the exact venues where it must erupt. But as William Blake said, “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy,” and if we allow and follow the grief, joy will inevitably emerge from its depths.
At this moment we are confronted with a horrendous reality. Not only is climate change decimating the planet, but added to that catastrophe is one that, unlike climate change, we cannot measure because the facts pertaining to it are concealed. Fortunately, we have a plethora of data regarding climate change, but foolish and frightened humans have been concealing the realities of Fukushima from the world for more than two years. Our sense of powerlessness grows exponentially by the hour. Fukushima is out of control, and so are we.
In World As Lover, World As Self, Joanna Macy refers to the work of Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski who speaks of “positive disintegration” or the cracking of outgrown shells which he argues “permits the emergence of higher psychic structures and awareness.” What disintegrates in times of catastrophe is not the essence of who we are, the deeper self, but rather, our defenses, our notions about who we are, that is to say, the ego. I say, bring it on. No, not psychosis or madness but an authentic decomposition of ego.
While the human ego gets a lot of bad press, the reality is that we need one. I would ask anyone who tells me that they have lost their ego how it is that they can find their car keys or the door to the restroom. We cannot live without an ego, but unbeknownst to the fathers of industrial civilization, the ego is only one small aspect of who we are. Near-term extinction and Fukushima are the best and the worst that the ego can produce, and left to its own devices, the ego will always replicate such horrors.
The human ego has reached the end of the line, and our struggle with the difference between giving up and surrendering is to be celebrated as its last death gasp. It has taken us to the jaws of death where we must choose to die to at least the old paradigm, and yes, perhaps, choose to die literally. Thus, it is now time to stop investing 90 percent of our energy in logistical preparation and 10 percent in emotional and spiritual preparation—if we have time and if we feel like it. In fact, these proportions should be reversed. For so many reasons—go ahead and count them, we are marching in our own funeral procession. There is enormous work to be done emotionally and spiritually in preparing for what appears to be our certain demise. If anyone feels uncertain about what I’m referring to, please contact me.
The termination of the three-dimensional, Enlightenment-engendered, patriarchal, soul-murdering, planet-annihilating paradigm of industrial civilization is upon us, and we should not be railing and raging against it if we are not willing to do the emotional and spiritual work to buy out of it and transform consciousness as we surrender to the inevitable. What we all need now is not another permaculture course or another bucket of barley but rather, the soft touch and locked eye contact of each other. We need our hearts to be broken open and our tears to water and soak the earth and wash away the encrusted filth of civilization that pollutes and paralyzes our souls. That, dear reader, is not about giving up, but choosing to rise to the unprecedented, Herculean challenge of healing and transformation that the current catastrophes have thrown in our faces.
It may be time to die, but let us, as the poet Machado says, die making roads over the sea.
CAROLYN’S FORTHCOMING BOOK: Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times. Pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/Collapsing-Consciously-Transformative-Turbulent-Activism/dp/1583947124/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377212856&sr=1-1&keywords=collapsing+consciously
Foreword by John Michael Greer
Release Date: November 19
McPherson’s latest essay for The Good Men Project was published Tuesday, 3 September 2013: Questioning Culture: Our Addiction to Growth.