by Michael George Daniel, an activist, writer/musician/artist based in Connecticut. Daniel has an engineering background in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability studies. He is a former president of the Earth Charter Community of the Lower Valley, and currently continues to seek a satisfying response to the distinct possibility of near-term extinction.
I’m intrigued by the question, “Are you on vacation?”
Umm. From what? Upper most in my mind is the Bruce Cockburn song, Lovers in a Dangerous Time. To be a lover at this time seems to have its particular challenges.
The word that comes to mind is ‘poignant’. It is a time of great poignancy. Perhaps I am confusing a natural sense of poignancy, of the mixing of the sweet and the sad, that comes with aging. But, I do consider it a fact that this time of my life coincides with the end of the Holocene period. Different scales, yes. Perhaps.
Out of all the perspectives one might explore about lifestyle, vacating one’s everyday life, or its relationship with the existential self or any life on the planet, maybe I could just start with that idea of scale because it is pivotal. I am most certainly halfway through my life span (ok, that’s a bit underestimated, but there may be karmic issue here that I’d like to skirt).
I’m sitting at a picnic table in the Florida Keys looking at the Bahia Honda Channel bridge; looking to the west into a light, but steady, westerly breeze. It shifted from its prevalent easterly character right after I managed to finagle a campsite here, this one literally and, reputedly, fortunate to be right on the water.
But that wind, it roared all night and the noise of the traffic on the bridge is nearly unbearable. Nonetheless, people clammer to get in here and I leapt at a chance after having to involve myself with an early morning ‘waiting’ list, which actually went smoothly and was kind of fun. People are really nice here, anyway.
Being involved in research like this, such as finding the very best places to hide out during New England winters, has its risks. Sometimes you spend way more money on something that is entirely unsatisfying; compared to, say, the night before when I slept in a dirt pull-off next to the water at a cost of nothing but the slight anxiety of the possibility of being rousted in the middle of the night. There I met two comrades in RVs doing similar ‘research’, though for what appears to be different reasons – and which I would bet ultimately are very similar reasons. There I didn’t feel nearly as alone as I have for most of this trip, and had perhaps the most satisfying experience out of the forty-two or so nights I’ve spent on the road so far.
Note, the excitement/anxiety of staying in a ‘wild’ place for no money is a huge reason why that was more satisfying than this campground. Last night, here on my expensive waterfront plot, as darkness fell, the lights in the site next door, occupied by a huge RV, came on; a neon palm tree, string lights around the footprint of the vehicle, two overhead floodlights on the side of the RV and a bright, one-foot diameter geodesic dome-like ball hanging on a stand under the tree separating our campsites.
Meanwhile, I had just read a posting at the entrance to the bathroom that said, ‘the Florida Keys are one of the best places in the USA to stargaze!’ As you may already know, I have become oriented to, and a fan of irony. The above is an example of the things you see and experience when irony becomes one of your lenses.
As I sat in my folding chair in the gathering darkness, I spotted the owner of the neighboring RV, jumped up, and as gracefully as I could introduced myself and gently asked, “when you retire at night, do you turn the outdoor lights out?” I was assured that he did. They did go out, just a few minutes before I decided it was time for me to sleep as well. Still, the stargazing was pretty good, washed by the sound of the tractor-trailer trucks speeding by on Route 1, shielding the left side of my face with my hand to block out the infiltrating light from next door, being buffeted by the strengthening westerly and the slapping chop at my feet. The good news is that I didn’t have to try to sleep with all that light coming through the thin walls of the tent.
All night long the wind howled so that you couldn’t barely tell the difference between it, that water hitting the rocks and the last few straggler trucks going by. I woke with this idea to write about ‘my vacation’ from a life that I continue to deeply question. Every moment seems to echo with the poignancy and the irony of that exploration.
I am a lover in a dangerous time. I have looked at the signs, read the science, felt the truth, at least what is true for me, studied the patterns and characteristics of the systems and institutions, proposed psychological explanations for larger trends based on my own research and, perhaps more importantly, my own experience, and decided that there is only one response to dangerous times and it is to live more deeply.
What does that mean, to live deeply, to live more deeply? Is it even a real thing, or just some thought – a concept. And what if it is just a concept, does it guide in a way that I would choose? To be a lover is to fall in love. It is to be willing to enter an experience of vulnerability that softens the boundaries of my perceived self so that I might commune with that which I love so much. I believe it is this life, this opportunity to choose, that I am seeking to love more deeply. The process that is implied is to exercise that capacity to choose and experience its relationship with this life, which can not be separated from the expression of life anywhere, neither on Earth nor elsewhere.
No, I’m not on vacation. I am here. Now. In the wind, sleeping on the ground. Being lonely, seeking companionship, breathing deeply, being cold, being hot, getting dirty and being so very grateful for hot showers. I am here with Dolly the dog, an awfully good companion.
I am here trying to sort out this deep desire for relationship that so easily and frequently gets cast as a search for a soul-mate, but which is so much more than that. I am subjected to a constant impulse to compensate for the lack of inherent collaboration in our free market system, you know, the one that is based on our so-called self-interest, and the nature of the culture that has developed around it. This need to compensate for that which is missing seems to undergird the partner ideal that so is so real and powerful. And, ironically, it is this ideal that is thus so energized that can both lead us forward toward its completion and undermine the real opportunities to connect that arise from time to time.
Everyone is alive. It is not horseshoes. You can not be more alive or less alive. Yet my experience has demonstrated that you can be more or less active in what you choose. If there is to be a new consciousness, driven by natural evolution and perhaps in response to dangerous times, I think it is this: to integrate all of the rational understandings we have developed to thrive in this culture, in the world as it is now, with a deeply felt sense of our own aliveness, our deepest values, are most profound desires. It means opening oneself up to the poignancy of feeling the brilliant joy of the breath, with the painful realization of its temporal-ness. To feel the bend in the arc of one’s lifespan, slip-sliding down the back side just as industrial civ slip-slides down the peak oil curve; to recognize that the end of your life appears very much to coincide with the end of the holocene, a geological epoch that spans 11,000 years and is characterized by an explosion of diverse life, but which has come to an abrupt end through human activity, the so-called ‘Anthropocene’.
It is impossible to rationally understand the relationship of these two scales, the human life-span and geological time. Maybe that is one of the problems with science, with politics, with the culture; that we aren’t able to understand this because the difference in scale is so vast. But, in the most quiet times, sitting in the fresh breeze by the turquoise water, or wherever you may find yourself, an understanding emerges that comes from somewhere other than the rational mind. It bubbles up from our felt-self and speaks clearly to us: there is only one response and that is to trust yourself, trust your instincts, trust your aliveness, and choose. Choose that which moves out from who you really are, from what you really cherish. And when your are moved to do something, check its genesis. If the system and culture are taking us over the brink and that next thing that moves you is something you were taught by that same system, perhaps there is an opportunity for the briefest pause in which we ask, ‘is my heart leading?’
Bruce Cockburn wrote, in Lovers in a Dangerous Time, ‘some days you’re waiting for the sky to fall, the next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.’ I believe that spells out this capacity to hold multiple perspectives that is a characteristic of an evolved consciousness. To move toward a lived experience of unity, of oneness consciousness, by appreciating the duality of the experience of living, the incredible poignancy, holding it all fully and deeply, and using that experience to shape the possibilities for our own lives and maybe – finding hope in hopelessness, the destiny of the species and life on the planet.
The resonant characteristics of the dominant systems are not fully controlling, but do hold a powerful inertia. Each of us has the power to step into a felt understanding of those aspects that are working and those that are not, and to choose. This is what it means for God to experience itself. It is an unfolding, and the choosing gets more profound, and simpler, all at the same time – as consciousness evolves and as we integrate the complex, symbolic thinking of the rational mind with felt reality. Check-in with your instincts. Hone your instincts, or, rather, hone your capacity to connect with and allow your instincts to shape the expression of your life. There is no answer to dangerous times, but there is the opportunity to choose a response and to be a better lover.
To reduce the risk of my ever-present tendency to write abstractly and with great generality; what seems perhaps overly philosophically and perhaps even a little obvious in the way that we already know all this stuff, just, perhaps, aren’t able to or haven’t chosen to say it out loud – I will try to be more specific. For me, this process and this journey seems to be about:
- Working for money less
- Offering whatever time and talent I have as a gift, when I can
- Learning to accept gifts and generosity gracefully
- Crying when I need to and encouraging laughter and play
- Accepting and living with fears and anxiety that are related to living the life I choose
- Moving away from fears and anxieties related to things I am not actively choosing to have in my life
- Learning to balance so-called survival needs inside of our money-economy; working for enough money without shifting the emphasis from being in-charge of how much is enough to it being in charge of me
- Being compassionate in all things, even those I disagree with or that disagree with me
- Cultivating courage and gentleness together to better feel more, spend more time being, and choosing my doing with greater awareness and love