by Jonathan DeJong
I wrote this essay for a collapsitarian group I belong to on Facebook. I was struck by the myriad little kingdoms even we climate-aware folks have compartmentalized ourselves into. I was somewhat despondent at the lack of civil discourse and this came from that pondering. Many on Facebook have already seen this but I thought it might get some more mileage if Guy decided to use it here rather than let it languish on my hard drive. My last NBL essay (Life is Different) was a visceral rant regarding my view of society. This one is the more compassionate side. I hope the comments that follow here, if any, can help us to find our meaning. The heat waves in the south, the storms in Europe and the “polar vortex” in the US seem still to not be a large enough call to make us unite or make the deniers wake up: Hence, this essay. I wish us all peace. I wish us all meaning … find your calligraphy. Give yourself permission to find peace, especially in times like these that will test the true metal of humanity.
I am more of an observer and I have kind of made my peace with so much of what we talk about here. I will always be reading and watching in the background because the articles and information are most often fact based and not available through too many other venues. That being said, I’d like to offer an alternative to the anger and futility that we collectively seem to be throwing around so often (and perhaps some reasons why). It is just my two cent as an observer. Nothing I say matters. As you will see … I don’t think much of what we collectively say matters either. I hope that some will understand that I see this as a positive.
Human beings love to be voyeurs. We love to see an “other” that has done something bad or horrible. We rubber neck at traffic accidents, we gasp at the corrupt behavior of politicians and religious leaders. We, in almost self-righteous indignation, thump our chests and exclaim, “oh my how awful” or “oh my what horrible people, group, or event, that is.” We love to be offended. We seem to need an objectified “other” to make us feel as though we are superior. In short, our egos need to be fueled constantly and we spend an immense amount of time and energy trying to portray ourselves in certain ways to the outside world. We need an object for our fear. We need it … to make us feel as though we are somehow, special.
The movie, HERO, with Jett Li, contains one of the most awesome archery attacks of all time. The conquering army stands at the ready. Archers by the hundreds are drawn and await the order to loose their arrows. Standing in between the armies is a Buddhist Temple who’s Zen practice is the art of Calligraphy. They do calligraphy in the spirit that Buddhist monks create sand Mandalas. The art, itself, is a meditation. When the art is complete, it is then disposed of as a mindfulness practice reminding the practitioner that nothing is permanent.
The master and the students know that they are about to be wiped out in the impending arrow attack and there is no way to escape. Many of the students begin to panic, showing that many are still on the path and have not yet become completely detached.
Physical suffering and pain and death still terrifies them as it does us, especially in the west (we think that we are somehow MORE special). After all, we think there is so much to live for — that we must somehow accomplish things (like any of it really matters). Many of the students want to try to run away (there being nowhere to run that could actually save them). There is no escape from the reach of the arrows. Death is certain. The master calms his students and says something to the effect: We will stay here and do our Calligraphy. We may die, but in the end they will see how well we did our Calligraphy (completely my words but the intent of the speech is there).
The arrows are loosed. The CGI creates this cloud of arrows in the sky, which is a truly amazing sight (I’m an archery coach so please forgive my bias). The next scene shows the arrows crashing through the paper walls of the temple — students are struck and are dying while they continue to do their calligraphy. In the end, all die, including the master.
I am going to argue here that we doomers and collapsitarians are dealing with as much egoic self as the traffic rubber-neckers. If we take as a premise of what we know about this world, that there is not much time left on this planet, then all we are talking about is irrelevant. We have the Fukushima event that could make our demise a very near-term event. Or, the triggered positive reinforcing feedback loops in the environment could make it a very near term but maybe a bit longer-term, near-term event. In any “event” our fate is sealed.
Why then do we continue on the way we do? I think, to some extent, we are as voyeuristic as those reading the tabloids (and please, all of you looking for reasons to get pissed — I am including myself here! Looking in a mirror is an uncomfortable proposition that’s why we always want to look out a window instead).
One group contends that everything is doomed and there is nothing we can do. Another says, “Well, we may be doomed but if we smoke this hopium pipe that has never worked in the past, then all of these great things will happen.” Hyper-spiritualists say, “There is a great awakening happening and it is going to save us” (not sounding all that dissimilar to the 2nd coming, but they’d never admit it).
The People’s Front of Judea (Monty Python) thinks they are the morally superior purists in their doomer prophecies but the Judean People’s Front yells HERECTIC, HERETIC!
“Alternatives are the answer!” “NAY”, say the permaculturists, “growing stuff in a holier than thou way is the answer.” “NO NO NO! We must mob graze.” “No, NO!” says the other. “We will STONE you if you spread dung on fields using beasts.” Meanwhile, the millions of cars are still on the road. The factories are spewing poison into the air and other developing countries want to emulate the insanity that the United States has morphed into since its birth, thus sealing our fate: A true glimpse of greed trumping reason and responsibility.
Again, we love to grab our hair in shock and say, “Oh how awful”. We rend our garments in rage and say, “Someone MUST PAY!” “It is men’s fault, its industrial civilization’s fault, it’s sin, it’s pestilence, it’s the Fall, it’s …” pick your blame game. Yes it’s The soldiers gassed in WWI may have not dealt with the end of the world but for everyone who died then, their world indeed ended on that field of slaughter. Pick your horror du jour. Anyone who dies from horrors, the end of the world was then and there. In fact, I imagine that if it ended their suffering, the mantra was, “good riddance.” Ever seen someone suffer and die from lingering cancer? Their world sucked completely and then they died. Many of them had to suffer and die alone. Now its our turn. Our population is in overshoot and we have suddenly had to confront our egoic selves and admit that we weren’t the smartest folks on the planet after all.
Death is coming like it comes for everyone. So here is where I ask the main question in this essay: What is your Calligraphy?
We all die. It is simply a matter of when and how. Knowing that, how will you live out the rest of your time? Will you live the remainder of your time in freak-out mode? Does watching in horror fulfill your life’s dreams? Knowing that fate is sealed, will you now look into the mirror, look at yourself, and realize that happiness has always come from within?
What do you have in your life that will allow you to let go of the horrors? What do you have in your life and in your singular self that can give you inner peace knowing that no matter what happens in this world, you can go out in peace and still feel tranquil? If there is not that in your life, then I assert that nothing we are doing is any more productive and helpful for humanity than the mass riots we see time and time again on the news forever being put down by militarized police. All attempts to save the world external to one’s self have met with failure. Perhaps this massive change of climate on our world is the “great awakening” that so many of the world have hoped for. Perhaps making the external world no longer an option, the inner world –- the so called spiritual world — is finally revealed as being the only thing that has ever been important.
Have you developed an inner centering that could allow you to simply let the world fall apart around you? Could you sit at your calligraphy knowing that your death is imminent and be at peace with it? In light of our world and all that may befall us, developing that sounds like the only noble goal, the only way to live. Never has it been different than thus. Only our delusion has made it so.
So what is your Calligraphy? I’d love to know.
Here is mine:
I love star-gazing with my telescope. I love gazing up millions of light-years away knowing that the galaxies I am seeing probably harbor life. I love contemplating the true meaning of infinity.
I love target archery. It clears my mind and makes me achieve singular focus (and yes I have read and re-read, Zen in the Art of Archery).
I love working in my gardens and on my homestead. Being among my animals and plants connects me with the energy that is reality. Nature is the only conscious being on earth. We are nature … we are consciousness.
I love to cook.
I love to do all of the above alone. I love to do all of the above with my family. Both are beautiful.
If the earth is going to reclaim its health by getting rid of us because we were stupid, then I think I can do one or all of those things listed above while the brimstone of our ignorance comes crashing down like a cloud of arrows. If the earth folds up, if the universe reclaims this space in the cosmos for better purposes, then I for one will do what I think the small voice inside of me is calling me to do: Practice my calligraphy, conquer my fear, and be at peace.
Thanks for letting me indulge with this. I hope it creates a useful avenue for dialogue. I will be here reading, but I am going to go create my Mandala. Peace.
Jonathan DeJong is a chartered financial consultant by profession. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. He is an avid homesteader who began urban farming with his mother in suburban Detroit back in the early 1970s. Out of college, knowing that the urban/suburban monstrosity was a ruse, he left Michigan to follow his “go west young man” voice calling him back to nature. He worked with ranchers in the Rockies, is a certified archery coach, and amateur astronomer. He and his wife are now building a 40-acre homestead farm on the high plains of Colorado east of Denver. They live there with their dog, 2 cats, and 31 chickens. DeJong writes at JAZ farm.