by Jack Adam Weber
Every once in a while we read something that stops us in our tracks. But in short time, we forget about it. Less frequently, we read something that stays with us, grows in us, and rather than disappear, it changes us so that every aspect of our very lives is tinged by the new information. I came across such a piece of writing a few months back, on overpopulation, climate change, and anticipated planetary changes. Here is an excerpt:
“Let’s look at it like this. If we discovered tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and – because physics is a fairly simple science – we were able to calculate that it was going to hit Earth on 3 June 2072, and we knew that its impact was going to wipe out 70% of all life on Earth, governments worldwide would marshal the entire planet into unprecedented action. Every scientist, engineer, university and business would be enlisted: half to find a way of stopping it, the other half to find a way for our species to survive and rebuild if the first option proved unsuccessful. We are in almost precisely that situation now, except that there isn’t a specific date and there isn’t an asteroid. The problem is us.” —Stephen Emmott
Before a storm, there is the proverbial calm, then the changes begin. Our collective calm is already fading; the changes are everywhere. Melting ice caps and permafrost, newly created methane vents spewing megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, severe droughts, huge storms, rising tides, plastic ridden warming oceans, widespread nuclear contamination — you know the story, I hope. We are at a crossroads, barely claiming a footing on the path would be more accurate, as we witness the world as it likely will never be again. Of course this has always been the case. But this time is radically different than at all other times in recorded history. Never has a single catastrophic condition engulfed the entire globe as climate change (which sweeping changes include global warming) now does. In the words of Emmott, “I believe we can rightly call the situation we’re in right now an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency.”
To even be discussing going to war in Syria, banning GMO food crops and fracking, conserving habitat for wolves and whales, building the XL Pipeline, expanding the filthy, cancerous Tar Sands operation, opening millions of acres in the Ecuadorian Amazon to oil drilling, is simply insane. These should be no-brainers. We should not be wasting time on these considerations nor forcing intelligent, earnest citizens to be using their personal un-paid time to fight for these minimal, if not relatively conciliatory, securities. We have urgent work to do far beyond considering more war and pollution; to even consider moving forward with these plagues is radical denial of the big picture.
Our governments and their corporate buddies act as though there is no climate crisis and as if even without the current reality, the living populations of the Earth are heartless and utterly expendable. The business-as-usual nonsense of perversely progress-profit-driven and placating, pandering governments the world over, the menacing reality of genetic engineering wanting to reprogram everything with or without a pulse, including you and me, and spray it all down with more petroleum-based pesticides to combat the damage its own techno-scientific roots created in the first place (i.e. super-bugs and super-weeds), the ongoing acidification and collapse of the oceans, and you might agree with what Emmott sums up his article: “We’re fucked.”
Where I live on the windward side of Hawai’i Island it rains about half of what it used to 6 years ago. Each year has gotten drier. The usually lush perennial peanut groundcover in my orchard is currently crunchy brown. A natural cycle, a normal anomaly? Maybe, but doubtful, given similar anomalies the world over. With each decade, each moment really, our climate changes are soberly projected to become exponentially more severe. We, and nature as we know it, are on the chopping block. In all likelihood, we, and our children, will never know nature as it is now. This means that we must celebrate her with all our hearts, and we must continue to fight to save her, if only out of honor.
The grim realities of climate change are too much for most to deal with. People who have little experience with enduring their own pain, the dark night of their own soul, will have an even harder time embracing the dark night of the world soul. Thus the denial. Therefore the disputes and controversy over what 97% of climate scientists generally agree to be true. And, the truth is likely closer to what the minority of these scientists predict; the chance to cover up the grim forecast is taken up in most instances for any number of reasons: political pressure, outright lying, media propaganda, denial on the part of the reporter, corporate fear and greed, saving one’s job or other personal agenda, and of course, the occasional innocent human error.
Most people I know either don’t believe or don’t want to believe reality, or have no interest to apprehend the evidence. I understand. It’s devastating, and I still don’t think we can truly comprehend the reality of the near future. Yet most of the world plods along as if none of it were coming. At best, we get lip service from government officials, backed up by equivocal action. It’s hard to imagine the real storm, Emmott’s proverbial asteroid, is coming more quickly than any of us would like. And this places us humans in a very strange predicament.
The Power of Heartbreak
Didn’t you know your heart was meant to break a thousand times to make everything beautiful again?
—excerpt from Thanksgiving: An Activist’s Grace
How do we occupy ourselves now, inwardly? How do we handle this emotionally and spiritually? The choice is each of ours. I handle the bad news the way I deal with all heartbreak; I feel the pain and let my heart break. I go into the dark, I let it all work on me, keep my eyes open down there, and let myself be transformed. The result? I emerge every time with more wisdom, more love, more care. Climate change reality is not different than embracing dying (if not our own then that of our children or grandchildren and others we care about). except that it is not only our own death but likely that of the majority of complex life forms and ecosystems as we know them. In other words, our hearts face breaking open as they never have before. Each of us is alive at the most unique time in all of human history because never have we imminently faced with such certainty the impending demise of so much at once. And this is poignant, any way you look at it. Poignancy is power. And the power we can all reap now is in our hearts, a passionately compassionate spiritual power made available by breaking…open.
When we deny heartbreak, we deny what is sacred. It is precisely this lack of heartbreak, and the feminine power of compassion and wisdom that blossom as a result, that causes humans to obsess over external power. Thus is born the sociopath, the corporation with no power of vulnerability, that denies the small, metaphorical and paradoxical death of heartbreak, and thereby fosters a massive, pervasive literal death. As I wrote in another article, “avoiding paradox lands us squarely in the midst of living out the dark side of its irony.”
Indeed, renewing your love for the natural world in light of ongoing environmental collapse will break your heart, if you let it. Heartbroken, we can feel a deeper passion, born of suffering and injustice. This way we can continue to grow and act wisely from our sadness, from our outrage, our intelligence, from our passionate and dignified, poignantly beautiful love. Our chance now is to love as we never have before, by the most paradoxical of means, the way deep, grounded love has always been born.
To be heartbroken is a modern-day enlightenment—recognizing that heaven is right here, under your feet, before your eyes, in your own body, which is a little chunk of this planet. Heartbreak, sadness, and fear are not distractions and impediments to fulfillment, enlightenment, and belonging; they are the way to a fertile, just world made of sane, caring people. To deny these emotions, as well as genuine humble joy and celebration, is to sow the seeds of sociopathy. Just about anything on any day can break you open, if you let it. The way to wholeness hounds you and me every day, which we often push aside as nuisances. This collective denial is precisely what has led to our current dire straits. Now or never is the time stop running and to break open, for all we have to bid farewell and all the beauty we still can welcome.
Fall In Love Again
The consensus of scientific facts is not getting us to change, at least not enough. Our rational minds are not enough to catalyze us and our governments into firm action.
A typical response to pain and imminent decline is to shut down, embitter, and become selfish. So, what is left? Courage is left, passion is left, love is left. But again, not just a light-worshipping, feel-good sort of love, except for maybe at first, in the honeymoon phase of re-loving the world, which needs our love now more than ever before. The courageous path, then, is to love more, fiercely more, to reconcile as much of the pain of the world through service and the celebration of radical beauty as we can.
The formula is this: fall in love with the world, especially the natural world and the good nature (even if buried) of your fellow humans. Bathe in the rapture of a forest, fresh air, the ocean, wildflowers in the high meadow, the stark gorgeous geometry of dunes, the sounds and refreshment of a river, the food you just picked in your garden—these heirlooms that are enjoying their last hoorah, as we are (even without climate change!), for no moment is quite like the next. Take heart for every human being who, like you and me, is trying, is tortuously beautiful, is confused and scared, still innocent because none of us knows the big answers. Even the assholes, the villains in this story, and their cargos of pain, that would have destroyed you or me long ago. Feel their angst, their confusion. Forgive them.
Let your heart break in the face of its decimation; sit with that feeling in your body, and let your good mind register the unedited upshot. Of its own accord, in its own time, this sadness can catalyze you, as the passion of devastation. Keep channeling the passion and compassion of your sacredly broken-open heart towards more reverence of nature, one another, and yourself, while acting to protect and enjoy and care for all of it. This is radical embrace. Seek the support and comfort and nurturance of good friends and allies, and nature herself. Let your tears flow and bathe you and the precious ground. Maybe you will decide to sacrifice some of your leisure, distraction, and pleasure time because the pull of your heart trumps your indulgence in “freedom” now for the option to be free tomorrow, or a year from now. This is also why it is helpful to know what’s coming. So, pull in the laundry, close the windows, hunker down, be ready, open your heart, big-time.
We humans want to feel good, most all the time. And this, again, ironically, is our downfall. I believe, as do a number of scientists, that most of our decisions are made with the intent to feel good — now, or very soon from now — immediate gratification. In one sense, the moment is all we have. Yet we must also discern how to live in the moment so that we also respect future moments. This is wisdom, which thinks into the future, sometimes seven generations into the future. We lack living according to wisdom, which is another form of wisdom in itself. We don’t want to sacrifice now for ten years from now, or even next week, and this part of the problem. We are poisoned by living in the moment as much as we are graced by it.
Our (as in the vast majority of people) habit for instant gratification does not help us prepare for climate change. And being heartbroken doesn’t feel good, now. We postpone it in intimate relationships, even when we see it coming, as we do when we ignore the facts of what we are doing to the world around us. Because of this, we must trust in the paradox of heartbreak, or at least begin with feel-good love to give us the sustenance to also grieve. This kind of love actually gives us the power, courage, and resources to act righteously in the face of pain and strife, the stamina to feel worse so that we might do something that gives us more of a chance for feeling better, for many tomorrows than the present moment of today.
When we fall in love with nature — its beauty, power, and lessons of wisdom — it gives us the power to endure these hardships in the cauldron of our psyches. It gives us what we need to move forward with resolve and fierce compassion — because something in our blood knows what is right, knows just where we belong, and that without the deep, abundant, and untamed natural world we will have lost something that completes and comprises our very souls, even if you don’t believe in a literal soul.
Medicine as Metaphor
As a physician, when I think of our predicament, and fish for a clue for if we collectively can stave off environmental and civil collapse, I think of my patients. What do you do when weight gain, a poor diet, or a sedentary life threaten you with diabetes or a heart attack? When smoking sets you up for emphysema? Or, more commonly, when you feel run down and on the verge of coming down with a cold? If you are one who would pass up dinner out with friends, a late night at the movies, a day off of work to rest and recover, then you are in the minority. You might also be part of the minority acting wisely now, not blindly indulging the moment, on behalf of our very sick planet. Unlike you, most keep pushing, and even when ill often do little to heal before things get worse. Indeed, the palest examples of our collective sickness are our governments and global corporations, who push on at any expense for the preservation of poisoning everyone, ensuring capitalistic cancer a foothold, and unfortunately, a takeover.
We don’t stop until we absolutely have to. But the problem with climate change is a bit like digestion. We don’t feel full in our bellies until after we pass the point of feeling sated. Our stomachs do not communicate satiation to our brains until fifteen or so minutes after the fact. We are all stomachs for the Earth’s fulfillment and health. We are, as David Suzuki echoes in similar meaning, past the point of fullness. We are over-eating, we are getting fat now on tomorrow’s rations and laying waste tomorrow’s fields (speaking of which, fallow fields are also a metaphor for sanity and sustainability, one the chemical giants have all but obliterated). We can’t wait until we already feel full; it will be too late. So, if you are a person who stops eating before you are full, this might be another sign that you are part of the solution to halt the storm of climate change before it strikes more pervasively. Please share your good habit with everyone you can.
Not long ago I read a staggering article in the New York Times (“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”) about how junk food manufacturers engineer their products to cater your greatest weaknesses. It is not surprising that these processed food manufacturers assemble addictive ingredients in just the right carefully studied and calibrated combinations to help override your body’s natural instinct to stop eating. They do it to hook you, to make more money off your and desensitized body-mind which can then consume even more without feeling its slow demise, while these mega-corporations capitalize on your ill health. It’s a staggering article, a long one that I wish did not end.
Per my metaphor of changing our ways before crossing the threshold into illness, I’d say the processed food manufacturers amount to the antithesis of supporting all the sensitive, wise, proactive qualities each of us needs in order to stop consuming, stop denying, and to avert disaster before it arrives. The junk food companies embody disease and demise on every level and numb us to becoming part of the solution, which we urgently needed yesterday and the year before.
Collectively, and especially in the ever-optimistic, light-bearing and trailblazing USA that carries on with business as usual (we are the only nation that did not ratify the Kyoto protocol, remember), every sign says we are going to get really sick before we stop. And it will be too late then, too late to stomach, to recover what we lost and can no longer live without, unless we undergo some strange genetic manipulation to survive a deranged future, a future without nature and a climate uninhabitable for our current genetic heritage. We’re already beyond the point that I would have turned back and lain in bed for a day or three to recover. Now I don’t have time to lie in bed; ironically, none of us do. And many believe it is already too late, even if we do all the right things now.
This is not a joke. It is not a bad movie. It is not a story of a far-off land. It is here and getting closer every day. So, whether you choose to party your brains out and indulge all you can before things get even worse, this of course, is your choice. It’s just not part of the solution; it’s a big part of what got us here. After all, it’s still totally legal to trash the planet. In fact, it’s encouraged. And I nor anyone else can stop you, perhaps not even if you actually wanted to be stopped. Consumerism, distraction, denial, and life-as-usual are as tough as cigarettes and high fructose corn syrup to kick. Personally, what comes up for me in the face of all this is deep sadness. But this sadness is quickly, somehow, converted to passion, and compassion. Compassion for every citizen on the planet that didn’t really create this mess. Compassion for every animal and tree and mountain that definitely did not create this.
“Insanity”: the New Sanity
If our president were to announce that no more children could be birthed for ten years, that you could not buy more than 300 dollars worth of gadgets a month, that pesticides and perfume and petroleum products were officially banned, that anyone could only travel in an airplane once a year, that cigarettes and nuclear power plants and the spewing guts of factories were to be shut down, that cattle raising (the largest contributor to greenhouse gases) were illegal and now banned, that the multinational corporations that really drive this insanity were to be disbanded, their leaders thrown in jail or left to feast on their own mutant creations in refugee camps, and their profits diverted to building a sustainable infrastructure that first and foremost protects the integrity of the soil, the rivers, the forests and the air we breathe, he’d be put in a mental hospital, or impeached, or worse. And when I say “sustainable” I mean a way of living that embraces the nourishment derived from decline and good old-fashioned death that fosters new life (i.e., fertile darkness), not some idyllic homeostasis of perpetual light and abundance — in other words, nature as usual.
But, this is exactly what we need. We need the sanity that is labeled “insane.” We need for the entire capitalist system to crumble. Or some other miracle, in this 11th hour. And I don’t mean the religious kind. I mean a grounded change in every one of us to live differently. We did not really create the problem, but it is our responsibility to try to fix, because no one else will. In effect, if each of us self-imposed what our governments will not impose, we could turn this thing around, to some degree. We could self-impose upon ourselves all the boycotts we are spared, which would in turn shut down the factories, the multinationals, the corporatocracy running and ruining the party for us all. Would we have to agree to do this all at once? How many of would be needed? It’s hard to get even my friends to chin up. But we have to, and we will all be forced to soon enough.
We want our goodies, to take our due reward for enduring life’s pains and injustices, another week at the grind of work we hate. Life owes us, the Earth owes us, God owes us, and we exact our entitlements, empowering the wave of environmental collapse. Indeed, the failure of humanity is one of denying and avoiding at all costs pain, difficulty, and ironically, the threat of death. We run from it, bury it, or burn it, or say it’s someone else’s, and this way perpetuate that darkness and medicate with the adornments of the American dream, and so build our nightmare. We shop, smoke, fuck, drink, eat, sleep, blame, and sunshine it away. The repressed dark night — which when embraced on a regular basis profoundly heals — and all her power and rage are upon us now. This is not negativity; this is the divine power of the Great Mother here to shut down the light-loving, sun-only worshippers of all kinds — the Industrial Revolution optimists, the neurotic meaningless-manufacturing entrepreneurs, the fundamentalists, the GMO liars, the clueless capitalists, the fracking-fools, pharma-fanatics, the worshippers of chemistry and “convenience,” the happy-obsessed, and the new-agers — who have all reigned for too long.
Fallow for Fertility
Until we collectively have a resting place — a figurative yet palpable emptiness and nurturing embrace inside our own bodies dedicated to sadness, reflection, long pauses, the decay of what does not work and has failed us, to our own greed and self-importance, to the grand satisfaction that is the simple beauty and awe of the natural world, and for all this to be more than enough — we will run the light of false optimism and hubris too hard and far into the ground and into the soft terrain of our bodies where it does not belong, where it poisons the sacred space that would save us from maniacal and perverted growth and neurotic progress at any cost.
In addition to taking sick time and ceasing to gorge ourselves before we get too full at the helm of the junk food corporations, we can extend this restorative motif to the sorts of fields of food now consuming American soils. Like lying in bed for a day to recover, or ceasing to stuff ourselves silly, we could return to the cycles of fallow fertility as the richness of emptiness we have honored in ourselves, which generations before us revered, where sadness and remorse are given room to break down and compost our dangerously overgrown ambitions. This, instead of the scorching heat of constant fake fertilizers and pesticides applied to mutant GMO crops, all of which try to replace the fecundity found only when darkness and decline are embraced and honored as essential to a sustainable, reverent, and organic means of building a decent and honorable future — from the ground up, but never too high, towards the scorching sun. This metaphor also illuminates why the simple acts of taking care of ourselves through the restorative, down-phases of life, instead of medicating them away to stay constantly up, energized, afloat and happy, or comfortably numb, are in reality the very necessary beginnings of saving the world by means of changing ourselves — our relationship to the sacred feminine principle, to darkness and to light, and therefore to our thinking, to our emotions, and a practical spirituality.
The world is getting stranger and stranger. They want to genetically modify trees to “grow” sterile forests. Genetically modified humans are not far behind. I’m against it all, not only for the poisons and sterility they inoculate into the biosphere, but because it’s unnecessary. The arguments for GMO farming to produce more food, saving “underdeveloped” nations, and using less pesticide, have been debunked by peer reviewed studies, with more on the way. Monoculture reminds me of the Holocaust. It’s also morally incorrect because monoculture, especially on a large scale, flies in the face of a respect for the biodiversity that has existed for thousands of years before us. The whole game is justified by fake heroics; in reality, it is evil upon evil. Big Business creates many of the problems then claims hero in “solving” the problems, only to create more, more toxic junk — they stuff their pockets on the way in and the way out, leaving a wake of detritus for us and the rest of life on the planet.
When we no longer can live in the cradle — the fierce yet beautiful and invigorating embrace and sane limits embrace — of the natural world as we have known it for millennia, I can’t imagine a life worth living. The genetic modification of the planet is a curse perpetuated by people who have lost their connection to an ordinary, awesomely abundant and truly fulfilling, self-renewing life. And they seem to believe their own lies that we need this nonsense. This kind of progress is both the problem and the impediment to our cure. Imagine: if all the resources poured into nuclear, pesticide and petroleum-based technology were channeled into less invasive, renewable ones. It’s a no-brainer. But greed and fear too often trump common sense, so the shows the evidence. Unfortunately, a small percentage of the people on Earth have gotten bored with ordinary beauty, with kindness, and fooled us into believing their way is best, only so they can keep playing their sick little game.
Again, the choice is yours. Each of us is still free to destroy the planet; it is still legal and encouraged, even glorified, under the red white and blue of normal. It may never become illegal to destroy what we love and what we need to survive. So, we have to make our own rules; we have to grow up, on our own, without Father and Big Brother to guide us. We need to remember, live by, and take to heart the nature-centered wisdoms from once ago. At the very least, our scientists are giving us the warning, the justification to act out of line, even insanely, in the name of urgent sanity. Each of us needs to be a little crazy nowadays, and really crazy if we want to save the party called life, as we know it now. Is it too late? Maybe. But every day is later not doing anything.
The Way Forward
It’s not enough anymore not to be doing something directly to rescue a part of the Earth. It’s not enough only to be a massage therapist and make people feel less stressed so they can return to work and get stressed out allover again, while contributing to the problem. My medical practice is no longer enough; I have to minister even more to the global biosphere and to the collective ecological sickness of humanity so that not only my patients but all of us might have the opportunity to live a normal life and contract decent, unavoidable diseases, not the perversion of environmental illness and technology-driven immune collapses and cancers, which are all on the rise despite our best efforts to conquer them with technology and more poison, rather than at their root via wisdom and restraint.
While science and technology have produced wonderful things, they also have contributed to a severe imbalance symbolically characterized by too much light, most starkly and pervasively evident in the warming of the planet. Human life expectancy has more than doubled in the last two centuries. We have vaccines and drugs and medical interventions and sewage management systems that keep people alive for longer. But are we happier, or happy enough? We cannot be.
Yet so much emphasis is placed on “being happy.” Again, the brainwashing of light-only worship. We desperately need sadness and fear and remorse for the grounded, mature love that develops from them, to save ourselves.
We have too many people on the planet and we’re projected for nine-billion by 2040 or so. It’s a sticky situation. Even with full cognizance of the problem, neither you nor I, for example, would likely choose to reject technological intervention to save a loved one’s life, or our own. Few want to sacrifice the innate drive to have children. But somehow, to do these very things makes sense for the big picture — counterintuitive, urgent sense. Yet they remain unimaginable, and also unreasonable. Unless we can miraculously reverse the trend of climate change, something has to give. We need a cure, if only to embrace of our own dignified surrender, which is not to give up, per se, but to concede what we can no longer change. What we deny and repress cannot be transformed; whatever we consciously embrace is yet potentially fertile, especially that which is dark.
None of this is easy. But it can get easier. We all still have to make a living, and we need things, but it seems the only way to make headway is to give up living luxuriously and to live with scarcely a surfeit of anything, except courage and care and some other c-words. Taking a vow of material poverty is a rich thing—not to pursue poverty as a goal, but to accept it as a consequence of breaking the hamster cycle of (arrows mean “engenders/creates”): denial of pain/fertile darkness > irrational fear/insecurity > imagined need > unfulfilling work > dirty money > more denied pain (suffering), guilt, and remorse > consuming to numb, maintain excesses, and avoid our pain and fertile darkness underneath our habits and unsustainable culture.
We need a new cycle, something to the tune of: caring enough to challenge ourselves into extreme simplicity > frees up our need to make so much money > creating more room for meaningful work that might pay little or nothing and with time to heal our inner-life complexities > time to create and live more earnestly, creatively, and essentially > time and space to sink into and be passionately reborn from the passion of heartbreak and fertile darkness > money enough to survive and to fund direct, potently sustainable endeavors > consuming to survive and thrive in outward simplicity, and to celebrate nature and one another with the deep-down good feeling that we are acting with wisdom for now and a hundred years from now. This is not hippie talk; it is cutting edge survival strategy.
In the midst of this self-imposed austerity we might just find, paradoxically and ironically, the richness, the beauty we thought was to be found through busy accumulation and filling the space inside—the space that must remain empty and fillable not with things but by the intangibles born of integrity, compassion, and common sense.
Dissention among us because of differences of religion, beliefs, nationality, race, even family issues and old grudges, need to take a back seat now. It is crucial that we forgive and embrace one another; we have a huge task at hand that we need to work on together, if only in tending to our collective grief and celebrating the brilliance of the quickly fading natural world and what still sparkles in each other.
Jack Adam Weber is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist, author, organic farmer, celebrated poet, and an activist for Earth-centered spirituality. He is currently at work on his next collection of poems for personal and planetary transformation. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also on Facebook.