by John Eastcott, who facilitates the Work That Reconnects. Eastcott thanks Joanna Macy and everyone who has contributed to the healing our world.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 2
(translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to the affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
~ Albert Einstein
I invite you to come into a space of collective search, where we explore together what is maybe the greatest challenge and achievement for our time: how do we open ourselves up and respond to the condition of our world in ways that would allow us to connect with our gratitude for life, to contribute to the healing of our world, and to experience the freedom and joy of living in widening circles?
You might assume that risking life in the face of death is solely the business of the Universe, but we are also expressions of that greater wholeness, and we can also make miraculous leaps and trust that we will land somewhere, if only at places of deeper appreciation for the reality that we thought we knew. Perhaps our many leaps will lead to our creating truly brave, new communities and worlds, places where all life is honoured and held to be sacred. We will see what happens.
However we decide to proceed, a dying time can be just as magnificent and wonderful as a time of birth, and both events have the power to magnetize attention and shift perspective, as the exhilarating energy of life courses through us and we surrender to wonder, awe and celebration. Whether you see the time we are living through now as a period of dying or of birth, of disasters or miracles, let’s consider first that we are — all of us sentient beings — experiments in consciousness here, and that, at some point, consciousness may just discover itself. In the meantime, all of our different perspectives on our world, and on reality, are important parts of the whole, joining us together like pieces of a large and intricate puzzle, and our following deeper into the apparent dissimilarities of these perspectives may lead towards wholeness, if we choose to pursue.
Although our many births and deaths, beginnings and endings are enfolded in the bewildering and beautifully complex fabric of reality (and we but rarely have the capacity to see clearly), one thing to me is obvious: however separate we might seem to be, we live here, now, on this Earth together. And yet, at this time of supposed spiritual awakening, anticipated by many, we are taking ourselves to the very edge of life on Earth, and many are struck in fear and awe with the view.
However magnificently we are interconnected through the mysterious web of life, we humans and the Earth are now experiencing critical imbalance and disharmony and, in crisis after crisis, we are fast accelerating towards multiple catastrophes — whether we acknowledge what is happening, or not. And not just human beings, but all complex forms of life on the planet are endangered, as an estimated 200 species go extinct each day and the forces of life’s disappearance are steadfastly engaged in hastening the great dying that may soon take us as well.
If it happens that you do not see much evidence of climate change or habitat loss, then perhaps there is nothing that I or others can point to that will move you to consider the probable destination of our current trajectory. But for those of us who are willing to see our common situation, and wonder about this, how do we respond to the overwhelming evidence of oncoming, out-of-control climate catastrophe and to the exponentially increasing likelihood of near-term extinction (NTE)?
Given our shared predicament, how do we live in the face of this and relate with one another? How can we appreciate the life we have right now, live in gratitude and joy, and create meaning and purpose in our lives? And, very critically, how might the life, that deeply connects and flows within us, respond through us so that we might somehow adequately address the crises of our time? I do not want to give any narrowing answers to these questions, but instead I offer more questions, and a few suggestions for how we might proceed.
For life on Earth is in evident peril, and many are feeling fear of this, as though we know what is going on in a deeper place within ourselves, a place often out of reach of the sometimes superficial motions of our divided and distracted lives. But given our mutual needs for physical and emotional safety and stability, how might we learn to become one another’s salvation at this time?
Like others, I experience a longing to meet the challenges of this time, and intuition tells me that ways forward will emerge through our relating together — through the energy of our interconnectedness. The spaces of attention that we hold between us are not empty voids, but rich places of possibility and abundance, spaces rippling with potential. These places, where attention is gathered and where we are deeply held in relationship, are spaces through which arise insights and motivations that carry the power to generate the courage we require to risk ourselves in taking steps towards meeting our heart’s desire.
If we are willing to look with open eyes, we can see that we are here in this body, on this Earth, of course, but for a time. And we can understand that dying is as natural as living, and that our life-span here is very brief, indeed. And, as we know, our civilizations on this planet also come and go, and the evidence appearing all around us now suggests that the fall and collapse of our current global, industrial civilization will take most complex forms of life down with it. Like death, the extinction of species is also natural and eventually inevitable, but what bewilders and shocks some of us today is the speed and scope that fall and collapse is happening at this moment.
In my striving to make sense of all this, I see that the word ‘development’ has its origins in ‘unfolding’ and I recognize how, at times in our individual lives, we experience developing, unfolding and unraveling. Because industrial development and the unraveling of complex living systems have happened together, maybe it is not a fantastic surprise that we find ourselves where we are today. But is it really our fate to succumb to entropy and collapse and chaos? Or, is it our destiny to somehow come together to integrate and transcend? Maybe it is our destiny to experience both collapse and integration. If so, what might this look like?
And then, regardless of how we think events may unfold, how might we act, now, in such ways that our actions are in deep alignment and accord with the power of the flow of life during this planet time?
First, if we think that where we are now is bad and wrong and somehow not meant to be, then perhaps we have not connected with the fullness of life inside of us, including the tide of unwelcome feelings that we have perhaps refused to let into our awareness and fully embrace. We often assume that we have to be in control, but we cannot filter out what we do not want to feel, and any refusing to acknowledge and fully know unwanted feelings and sensations has the effect of closing us down, dulling and numbing us to our whole experience. If this has happened, then how have we been holding ourselves away from the truth of our innermost experience, and where in the body are the places where we have been most afraid to go?
Perhaps we have believed that we are entitled to be comfortable and protected against experiencing any hardship, both within ourselves and without. It is apparent that we have developed fortresses of various kinds, and the encasing, protective ego is an amazing (although fatal) defence mechanism. Seeing through the lens of our conditioned ego ensures that we see separation and not connection, and ego habitually separates from emotional pain. Follow through these questions and you may discern where your allegiance is: What in my being wants to move towards pain? When you are moving away from pain and closing down, who are you? And when you are the staying with, reaching toward and holding pain, then who are you? Are you ego, or are you the wider consciousness holding space for everything? Perhaps we are both.
When we bring attention to our shared pain for the world and acknowledge the truth of what is alive for us, when we go into the energy of that inner and unmet living truth to the point of reconnecting everywhere, then we experience a heightened appreciation for the magnificence and miracle of this flowing life and we receive an increasing capacity to act in accordance with its power. By this empowerment, we shift relationships and widen ourselves to hold larger possibilities, possibilities that may lead to the creation of innovative ways of honouring and meeting our mutual needs, possibilities that might lead to ways of shared salvation.
Just for a moment, imagine that there is an awe-inspiring purpose to life being here on Earth, and that conditions are ripe for our seeing that we are on the verge of its discovery. If this is true, how might this change life for you? Some believe that technology will save us — or maybe allow some of us to escape from the mess we have created on Earth — and others believe that consciousness will save us somehow. Maybe neither will save us, in the sense of allowing us to survive the physical consequences of collapse. But perhaps both can be involved in some interweaving of salvation and redemption. Regardless, to be waking up at this time of potential realization—and, perhaps, transformation—is what Joanna Macy refers to as our participation in the great adventure of our time.
So after we have started to face the increasing probability of NTE and we have begun living with and through our fear, our anger, our despair, our guilt — living through all the sensations that we identify as feelings and those we can not—after we have started to lighten the burden of unmet feeling that we had been carrying, and begin to live our deepening grief and love for life, and after we experience gratitude for just simply being here to taste this life at all — what, then, is our purpose?
How we receive this question depends on whether we see ourselves as a separate individual, isolated by ego, or as a part of a larger collective, embedded in the web of life. This is the choice offered by wave/particle dualism: whether we see light as particles or as waves has an enormous impact both on our understanding and on how we proceed. Are we separate rivers following our own course, or are we the sea? Are we isolated instances of life, or are we inextricably a part of life’s greater flow?
When I hold the idea of purpose as ‘my purpose,’ my own personal story and trajectory gets evoked for me and I experience the stress of struggling alone with my burden of personal responsibility. In this place, I may experience discouragement, disempowerment and fear, among other feelings, and perhaps a sense of being shut down and stuck. Despite my willingness to affect change, I may be impeded in my ability to respond to myself and others on a deeper level.
But when I accept the idea of purpose as ‘our purpose,’ this alerts me to the presence and flow of life through me and others, and I can open more in curiosity and wonder at the potentialities that exist between and through us, but which have not yet come to be. I awaken to the possibilities of synergy, that seemingly magical property of all living systems — and that Macy often points to — which allows us to create through our interactions in such a way that the skills and insights we each bring together combine to create outcomes that are more unpredictable and wonderful than any one person participating in the creation might have imagined. The power that exists between us is possibly far greater than what we can access when we believe we are alone.
Accepting the way that life is unfolding on Earth does not mean that we have to be resigned or complacent or apathetic, or without some hope and gratitude for the potential inherent in what life remains. Perhaps it is our destination to create beautiful and noble ways forward together in the wake of life’s receding tide on this planet. Maybe our destiny includes discovering a larger sense of home. If we are so powerful together, what might we create that would be of immense service to us all? How might we redeem ourselves for our involvement in creating this crisis on Earth? What might the healing of our world look like now?
I’m interested in discovering ways through which we might empower ourselves, effectively and safely, so that we might address our common circumstances and difficulties, as well as honour and, hopefully, meet our shared needs. Because we have been conditioned into separation, when it comes to handling our pain for the world, we frequently experience big challenges to our capacities to love and support one another. But the dangerous forces arrayed against us are really just us, and if we want and intend to significantly change the agreements and arrangements of this world, then we will have to seek out ways to work with and transform the energy of our anger and fear into an abundant passion for justice and peace — into an energy that does not really threaten any one, and a compassion that carries with it the full power of our grief and love for life.
As far as we can see, the mysterious emergence and evolution of life, including industrial growth and development and its collapse, appear to be within the natural order of the universe. And yet, what appears to us very much as a process of deterioration, decline and dying may actually be one of birth, and a process that — at this point — may be just too baffling for us to comprehend. And the uncertainty of this need not stop us from taking steps together in the direction of deeper inquiry, and discovery.
If everything is unraveling and unfolding as it is meant to, then the great challenge for us appears to be to discover and align with a larger, collective purpose, so that we may somehow redeem ourselves at this time of our apparent demise and understand our destiny, perhaps for the first time.
Healing, indeed, may be less about recovery and survival, and more about opening in our love for life and coming to wholeness. I believe, with Guy McPherson, that we are all in hospice now, but our present circumstances do not prevent healing from happening — in fact, it may make it more likely. At this time, there is greater potential for conflicts to resolve and well-being to be established, even if this occurs just before death. When we no longer deny what is self-evident, we can be more willing to face the truth of our inner experience, we may explore more seriously our connection to the reality in which we find ourselves embedded, and we can access the power that flows through us.
We are not really separate from life, or from any other living thing, and this realization can help us awaken to the mystery and enliven us to proceed with greater purpose in mind. And accepting that there is nothing essentially wrong with what is happening can liberate us to open to the movement of loving, divine intelligence, flowing through us and everything.
If you feel the inner call to respond to our time in meaningful and life-enriching ways, ways that would enable us to be of true service to each other and the whole of life, then let us gather and connect and share and support one another through the co-creation of ways forward, ways that we might never come to us within the imprisoning delusion of our separateness. I invite you to access the potential of relational synergy in order to create ways of healing response to the eventualities of planetary instability.
Through our gathering in circles of creativity and compassion, we might nurture empowering spaces through which our next steps might appear. Let’s be inspired by the intention of letting deep potentials unfold between us, and then act together with enthusiasm, determination and joy in the healing our world. (Please follow this link for some guidelines that might help you in establishing a powerful group dynamic: http://goo.gl/6Mjk3v.)
Imagine spirals of awakening, moving out in widening circles, reaching out to those who are willing to be drawn into the gathering energy, as we celebrate together the new and powerful flows of life in our communities as our perspectives shift, as more energy is liberated and our relationships transform. The outcome of our trusting the flow of life might be beautifully simple or astoundingly grand but, whatever happens, I wish that your relationships enrich and make life more wonderful for you.
The opening apertures of our awareness may just become the channels through which we birth ourselves. Just as we can trust the intelligence of our bodies—as they know implicitly what we have to do in order to heal and grow—we can trust the process of birthing in the intensity of widening circles. I am not suggesting that birthing the energy of reconnection and renewal through the pain of the contraction of our sometimes tightened egos and tense bodies is going to be all fun and easy. But I hope a lot of it might be! We can let go of what we think we know and leap into the moment where the magic is and trust that the experience will be enriching for all.
Birth and death are both about our letting go and, ultimately, we can only trust the life energy that is carrying us, and surrender. What we must do here is very big: we have to trust and allow life to happen through us. Through our holding spaces of awakened, widening attention, I imagine that we will reach our destination. Maybe our destiny is to go into the heart of consciousness itself.
I wonder at the mystery of life and, if we are really willing to turn towards it, then I guess we are also willing to turn towards ourselves. Perhaps, in the end, we are not really free agents, but helpless witnesses to the flow of loving, divine intelligence as it moves through us—even as we become aware of ourselves as that intelligence. Maybe we created the universe and we just do not know it yet. Let us see.
So, I invite you to come into a space of collective search, where we explore together what is maybe the greatest challenge and achievement for our time: how do we open ourselves up and respond to the condition of our world in ways that would allow us to connect with our gratitude for life, to contribute to the healing of our world, and to experience the freedom and joy of living in widening circles?
And may we love the journey.
Thanks for your patience as Harry Lerwill generously worked to get us back online. Our reward is an article in the Chico newspaper about my work. I’m cast as the black-hat-wearing bad guy against Bill McKibben. Catch the drama here.