THE GREAT RECKONING: Navigating Through the Veil of Denial.
THE GREAT RECKONING: NAVIGATING THROUGH THE VEIL OF DENIAL
I grew up in the post-war period of the fifties and sixties, a time that witnessed the expansion of global air travel, the first moon landing, and the astonishing development of communications technologies which have evolved into today’s internet, advances that have changed our lives in a very short period beyond what our grandparents could even have imagined. But it dawned on me some time ago that what we called progress was becoming less about moving towards a more harmonious, desirable or even benevolent human society, even if we had convinced ourselves it was, but seemed more about what we were escaping from. For these ambiguous gifts of modernity, in spite of their more obvious benefits, also have a very dark side, as though they mirrored our pathologies, and sometimes seemed to multiply them, like a virus. It seemed to me the kind of hyper-rational techno-utopia we have been dreaming of creating is the shadow projection of the increasingly unacknowledged part of ourselves, namely our primordial organic bio-physical nature, that requires context and participation to fulfill our true vocation of evolving beyond the conditions determined by greed, anger and delusion, all of which were magnified by this state of dissociation, towards the more subtle heightened states of compassion, generosity and wisdom. Most of the great spiritual teachings tell us that this is indeed our vocation.
Many celebrated narratives have explored this theme in different ways, from Pandora’s box, to Prometheus, Goethe’s Faust, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, warning us of the hubris and danger of attempting to master and control nature’s forces to our own ends, usually driven by greed or the desire for power, and almost never with beneficial outcomes, at least in the long term. It’s as though we have always known about our propensity to self-destruction. And now we seem to have arrived at an unprecedented crisis point. Whether we have the capacity and wisdom to navigate a way through the veil of illusions that have sustained us through this accelerated period of technological change and upheaval is the challenge of our times: it is truly the hour of reckoning.
Some argue that we had no choice: that the rational stage of evolving a global society was inevitable, and like all stages, the archaic, the mythical and so on, it will reach the limits of its efficacy after which seeing every problem as requiring only a rational solution becomes counter-productive, and a new form will emerge that strives for balance between an evolving ‘globalism’ as a new form of cultural consciousness and the need to speak to people where they are, respecting their local communities and their need to belong, while the natural world is regarded not as an item to be fought over between exploiters and preservationists but as part and parcel of any definition of community that needs as much nurture as its human members. There is a timeless principle at work here, of the One and the Many, which comes from neo-platonism and other mystical wisdom traditions, and it is worth recalling that the original Green manifesto of the 1970s was based on a modern version of this in thinking globally while acting locally, before Green Globalism became part of the capitalist elitist growth machine, and Green Washing became part of the neo-liberal economy controlled by the banks and the corporate state, and the cultural import was buried beneath expansionist economic priorities.
Indeed Ken Wilber, for one, argues in his notion of Integral Spirituality that we will evolve to a higher form of consciousness, an integral and super-integral spirituality that doesn’t replace the former stages but incorporates all of them. Others argue that the odds are against this, and that no civilization, once it has developed a technological stage, has ever avoided destroying itself with its own hubristic inventiveness. But how would they know this? It implies that the notion ‘civilization’ necessarily has a singular trajectory, or that it necessarily requires this kind of technological development: we did what we did just because we could. This is what the Promethean narratives warn us against, and where wisdom in general advises caution. This also assumes some kind of linear trajectory of ascension: the transcendent trumping the immanent. This too is questionable.
The author Iain McGilchrist, in his impressive study of the divided brain and its cultural ‘projections’, The Master and His Emissary, argues convincingly that the ‘right-brain hemispheric world view’ has primacy and gives us context and participation, while the ‘left-brain world view’ is a necessary ‘emissary’ giving us the power of logical analytical thought and rationality, but that it is dangerous if it does not respect its role as the emissary and report back to the master with its findings to appropriately situate them in the essential wider context that grants us our primal human connectivity as participation with others and with the natural world. The problem, he says, is that over the last two thousand years there has been an incremental reversal of roles, whereby the Emissary has hubristically granted to itself the role of Master and marginalized the true Master as a second-rate Emissary that mostly stands in the way of its self-aggrandizing schemes. Hence the ensuing chaos and turmoil we find ourselves caught up in.
What we call modernity has evolved this vast machinery of an economic system, based on infinite resource extraction in a context of a finite earth, exponentially expanding human needs through commodifying desire, a human capacity that arguably is there to fulfill a higher aspiration rather than the futile attempt to satisfy this longing with accumulative acquisition, and endless novelty. The seemingly unstoppable momentum of this system has taken on a life of its own, like Frankenstein’s monster, and seems programmed to its own inevitable, and probably spectacular, collapse. Our blindness with regard to this is a consequence really of our pathological condition of denial, which manifests in what I call the conceit of self-duplicity, which also has the unconscious tendency to lead to violent outcomes. Again we are back to the urgent need of some serious shadow work. Some years ago I was struck by something the Mexican poet Octavio Paz said - that modern man pretends his thinking is wide awake, but that this has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason.
Secular modernity is based on two principles: the concept of linear time, cause and effect viewed as a uni-directional trajectory; and knowledge based on measure – what cannot be measured doesn’t exist. But time isn’t necessarily linear, and the measureless isn’t non-existent. Consequently we have divorced the realm of knowledge from the realm of value, whereas in both indigenous and classical cultures knowledge and value came from the same source.
We have reached the stage of what Georges Bataille calls the triumph of the sovereignty of servitude – not service to a higher aspiration, but to the delusion of separation and dominance, which is now well advanced towards planetary suicide. From the start modernity has been a deeply ambiguous project. Pankaj Mishra in his book From the Ruins of Empire points out that the history of modernization has been mainly one of carnage and bedlam rather than peaceful and mutually respectful convergence. Having spent a lot of time on three continents, and lived for over 20 years in East Africa I can see much more clearly the outcome of the imposition of modernity on cultures the West barely understood when they embarked on their imperial projects, and I agree with Mishra that the sanitization of Colonial history and the triumphalist celebration of how Enlightenment rationality bestowed on the world the marvels of modernity is in denial of modernity’s dark side, seeing the traumas of world wars, and of fascism and Stalinism, as aberrations rather than the shadow projections of the West’s own wounded and divided ‘Self’.
Nearly forty years ago when I went to stay on this small Buddhist hermitage island in Sri Lanka on a long retreat, as I was in the midst of a major life crisis, I had long had the feeling there was something wrong with the world, beyond the personal traumas of a dysfunctional family or my early impressions of Britain’s post-war austerities, and growing up I became aware that I was a essentially a misfit – I did not easily fit into this society with its brutal coercion and often frightening machinations. Fortunately I was not alone as the sixties saw a whole generation in defiance against what was called the military-industrial complex. Today there is a haunting pathos when I recollect those days of now almost unimaginable freedom and what felt then like a contagious joy as we really thought we were going to change the world. What was it that felt so wrong: Leonard Cohen summed it up eloquently in his song “The Future” “The blizzard of the world has overturned the order of the soul.” A poetic confirmation, if you like, of McGilchrist’s thesis.
I desperately needed to find that order, to find a way back to that connectivity, that underlying harmony, to that reawakening of wonder, away from the perplexity, cynicism and alienation. And I was fortunate as early on in spite of all the emotional upheavals of disruptive parental dynamics I kept alive that inner sense of being part of something that I felt was essentially sacred, even though the voices of indoctrination were doing their very best to tell me this was an illusion and did not exist, that we were just robotic machines programmed by genes that belonged only to a mechanistic causal order.
It was in silence and solitude amidst nature that I retrieved that quality of an underlying harmony. When you are deeply touched by that there is a realization that in the end there is nothing else you really need: all your fabricated needs are merely substitutes. And in spite of many ups and downs – for this path is rarely a smooth one - I vowed to keep alive that timeless sacred context known to consciousness, and to know that the real vocation of the human is the path of actualization and awakening, which means nurturing that awareness that can embrace both beauty and terror, attraction and aversion, in a space of equanimity beyond blame and shame towards what Terry Patten calls a Ne Republic of the Heart.
Nowadays I teach mindfulness, which is a good practice, a gateway if you like towards recovery – but being in the present moment, focusing on the Now, also requires a further ethical dimension through inquiry that fosters the faculty of insight. Much more is needed to really step out, not only from the cultural norms and indoctrination, but from our own tendency to self-indoctrination, to this violence of self-duplicity through denial. Also we need the ability to empathize, not only on the level of feeling, emotional empathy, but cognitively: cognitive empathy is about being able to walk in the other’s shoes, or even to walk about inside their head, to understand their cognitive perspective, their strongly held views, even the ones you find least attractive, even repugnant. This requires that we all engage with shadow work, for both individuals and cultures are prone to projecting their own shadow sides, and thus to defining themselves in terms of aversion towards the hated ‘other’, what the philosopher Hegel called a negative identity. In a world fraught with mass migrations amidst a great fusion, and confusion, of cultures that can as easily lead to conflict as to the more nuanced responses of creative cross-cultural engagement and understanding, acquiring more than one language becomes almost a priority. The work of Albert Costa on bi-lingualism shows how the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is manifested in mindfulness practice, enables bi-lingual or multi-lingual people to engage with others with more empathy. There is a challenge for all of us to examine belief systems, particularly our own, and see them for what they are: constructions of thought.
I remember reading a book by Ernest Becker back in the 70s: The Denial of Death. The main thesis was that we devise strategies to postpone the terror of death by constructing cultural belief systems that give us the illusion we are protected from contingency by having a view about the nature of reality that confirms we are beings of value in a meaningful universe. When a particular construct collapses, and is no longer credible, as all forms are impermanent, we suffer from an epochal existential crisis. Culture and Self-Esteem have been called the twin pillars of Terror Management – this is Sheldon Solomon’s Terror Management Theory, a research project that has confirmed many of Becker’s assertions. The Buddhist Dhamma tells us the same thing: Buddha said: “The house is burning” – as long as you seek safety in form you will suffer, for all forms are transient: somebody you love will leave or die; you will suffer old age, sickness, financial loss, grief. It’s unavoidable.
In retrospect this island retreat was, to put it simply, the beginning of an attempt to answer the question, Who Am I? This question should really stop us in our tracks. But we go through years of education learning to ask so many questions, and to answer so many questions, usually within the paradigm of objectified knowledge, but nobody asks this one. There is an unexamined assumption that I am the names and labels attached to my occupation, my cultural-linguistic identity, my social-historical community, hence a fixed notion of identity becomes a default position, to be defended at all costs. But rarely do we inquire as to whether the answer to the question as to Who I am is little more than the sum total of What I am. Perhaps by letting go of a lot of What I Am I come to see more clearly Who I Am. We are crammed with information that tries to ‘fix’ the world through a template of conceptual certainties, at the expense of the most fundamental capacity we possess: self-awareness, along with empathy.
To know who I am amidst all these realms of being is a task that must address our ultimate concerns about life and death.
You have to find out what you are going to do with this one wild and precious life you have been given. This is not something you earn – earning is another matter concerning physical survival needs. The sun doesn’t have to ‘earn’ to shine. But you might have to risk everything to discover it, to unearth it from all the certainties that have buried it. And somewhere, probably when you least expect it you will come across it, or it will more likely find you: like a jewel amidst the debris of all those collapsed certainties, the ruins of your failed ambitions, failed relationships, or deluded self-aggrandizing schemes.
I found in the Buddhist Dhamma something profound that gave value and meaning, amidst all my failings and disasters, the hurts received and given. I began by trying to understand conceptually something that was very alien to the Western mind-set. But then eventually the realization was that it could only be apprehended through practice, to become as real as the oxygen I breathe – quite literally: “Breathing In I know I’m breathing In; Breathing Out I know I’m breathing Out”: This is nurturing awareness, grounding ourselves in the body, in body-time, in the present – it is Process. This was revolutionary, for me. It created a sanctuary, a refuge, through which the promise of the True, the Good, the Beautiful might be actualized as the alchemical transformation of the base conditions of greed, anger and delusion into compassion, generosity and wisdom.
What was the most crucial stage in this? What marked the crossing-point, the vital threshold in this journey? I think it was in seeing that uncertainty was not something to be feared. That not knowing often contained or manifested more spaciousness than knowing. It opened into a liminal space, that was often anything but ‘comfortable’, but if I could abide in it I discovered it had a quality of boundless possibility in which a creative dynamic became tangible.
For me the way was through the existential crisis that had manifested in the West as nihilism. In this Memoir, The Island, A Mirror for the Soul, I go into this in some depth, exploring the philosopher Nietzsche, and also the Kyoto school of Japanese philosophers who were the first modern philosophy school from the East to really comprehend the challenge that Western existentialist philosophy presented. They emphasized the need to go beyond this pessimistic nihilism, and stated that overcoming this was the greatest issue facing philosophy and religion in our time. One of them, Keiji Nishitani, regarded this contemporary nihilism as a necessary stage he called relative nihility, on a path to understanding experientially the Buddhist notion of emptiness, which he called absolute nothingness. He understood that the essence of modern existence was identified with self-consciousness, so the way we saw ourselves was limited by the horizon of the field of consciousness. Our task then was to pass through the field of relative nothingness to absolute nothingness, which was the groundless ground of emptiness: it has something in common with the Greek, and sometimes Christian mystical, notion of kenosis, self-emptying, and implies abiding in an absolute openness. The journey if you like concerns the whole process of confronting that abyss that the ego, divorced from any belief system as defence against contingency, is in perpetual flight from. For it perceives this nothingness in negative terms. But I discovered that in the East the notion of emptiness had more positive connotations, as something pregnant with possibility.
The path then was through the nothingness. The nearest articulation would be in Zen what is called the Great Death. Only by encouraging extreme doubt, doubt even as to whether I exist, can I relinquish all the false certainties that make up my identity, and by facing the nihility as it were can you arrive at the experience of the groundless ground of self, the groundless ground even of being, from where arises an affirmation. You might say it is like an everlasting spring bubbling up from a bottomless well.
This is not easy as our defences are so strong. My normal reaction to despair when my conditioned psychological defences are breached is to identify with negative self-images, and so I easily become convinced of my own worthlessness. Identification with these, and the false security even clinging to a negative self-image gives me, must be discarded. When these thoughts and feelings are observed in meditation they are as impermanent as any other thoughts, even positive ones. To enter fully into despair is to accept that I cannot will myself into a solution to it, and thus by dropping all intention I fall into the very abyss, avoidance of which is the source of my despair. My stress, my despair, or depression turns out to be a gift, a wake-up call into shifting the context. I come to see that despair or depression is not a symptom of meaninglessness but the result of my attempts to escape it, and usually involves a craving for something I believe I want but which is really a symptom of something else, something unresolved.
It is a really quite strange, that amidst modernity, with all our sophisticated technologies, we nevertheless find ourselves caught in this dualistic trap: My inability to live fully sustains the illusion of guilt, that feeling of unworthiness, of something ‘missing’, and my unwillingness to relinquish this sustains the repression that gives rise to it. To surrender to despair is to become one with it and allow it to consume the self that is sustained by its dualistic reaction that alternates between hope and despair, without seeing that they are two sides of the same coin. As the self collapses into despair, despair itself dissolves with the self, thus refuting the need for salvation grounded on the egoic self, which ultimately is groundless.
But here it is also important to make a distinction: the groundlessness of self does not mean you don’t exist, a notion that would be incoherent to us. It just means there is no enduring substantial self-existent ‘self’. And the way to look at this is to perhaps say what is there, rather than what is not there: there is a person, and the word person comes in the West from the Greek persona, a mask: you out on a mask to play a role in the theatre. We all have roles: as occupations, fathers, mothers, teachers, artists, CEOs, students etc. But all these roles are the result of causally connected conditions, dependent on physical, mental, emotional states in a complex web of interdependent relationships – that’s actually the person I am, so the notion of no-self, or not-self, has to be understand not as the annihilation of the person I am: it merely shifts the relationship of self to other and to the world through the inquiry and observation of these states of attraction and aversion, through awareness of my patterns of reactivity, and enables one to abide in a more spacious interior environment where I can more appropriately respond, rather than react, to whatever situation arises. It distinguishes the mode of existence that accurately characterizes my life within a set of causally connected conditions and relationships, a collectively constituted member of a social-historical community, with roles, intentions, challenges, rather than the delusion of an isolated self that exists as a separate subject looking out on a world of separate objects, things, and people.
Crucial to this path is the need for curiosity, to investigate and inquire beyond our comfort zones – the pilgrim is really an adventurer, a risk-taker, going out of the box in extremis if need be, in order to find out how to “love things as no one has thought to love them” as the poet Rilke said.
The 13th c. Japanese Zen teacher Dogen said: To study the dhamma is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be awakened to the ten thousand things; when awakened to the ten thousand things body and mind, as well as the body and mind of others, drops away.’
What does Dogen mean by the dropping away of body and mind? I hardly think he means we become disembodied: we are already discarnated by our reliance on technologies of form into a state of dissociation. Rather I think he means we come upon an awareness that is no longer exclusively identified with body or mind as form. In other words form yields to the formless, unbounded consciousness, yet we remain always deeply embodied. And he said Let Mind come forth without fixing it anywhere. Here he is talking about the great Mind, not the personal mind: I came to realize, he says, that mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun, the moon and the stars.
Forgetting the ‘self’ I am confirmed by the things of the world. I realize my essential relationship to the world and others is non-dual. We interpenetrate: there is inter-being as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, not only with other but with the natural world and the awe and wonder we experience in its presence when we are awakened.
Confronting one’s own nothingness bestows a spiritual urgency as I journey down the path of becoming a vulnerable human being, stripped of all pretence, and again and again reminding myself to question where I may have unconsciously once more given my allegiance to the culture of denial. And the other side of the culture of denial is magical thinking, which is proliferating everywhere now as the crises escalate. Nothing outside you will resolve this dilemma.
To see things clearly, as they are, also means constantly reminding myself of the dichotomies of my existence: the often heedless cruelty or violence of an act as well as the capacity to be creative, and how closely intertwined they are. It could be the simplest heedless action that needs to be investigated. How many of us go out into the garden – if we are lucky enough to have a garden - and pick a flower to put it in the house. I just did this yesterday – even Buddhist monks do it and put flowers by the thousand every day before Buddha images – And then I asked myself: Why did I do it? Because I so appreciate its beauty, I want that fragrance, I want that colour and that ambiance to permeate my dwelling, while fully knowing that in all probability its exquisite sentiency registers the violence of the cut when I pick it. Why do I do this? Is this not another example of self-grasping? Can I not simply leave the flower where it is?
I desire a beautiful teak dining table to proudly invite my friends for dinner. Multiply that by 20,30,50 million: how many forests are eradicated to supply this? I recycle my plastic but continue to leave the tap running for five minutes when I brush my teeth. I fear for the future of my children on an endangered planet, but I still drive my SUV 200 metres to the convenience store for bottled water. We don’t make the connection. Obviously I am not saying don’t drive your car, don’t buy a table…but perhaps at this juncture there is a need to pause: how necessary is this to a fulfilled life? What am I prepared, in the last resort, to relinquish?
On the island I learned to live with very little: a cup of water for my teeth, a bucket for my shower, one meal a day. I didn’t regard this as deprivation, for solitude and silence opened me to the richness and vibrancy of each day: I lacked nothing for my soul was at home and at peace amidst natural abundance.
We make films, write exquisite poetry, make wonderful music and kill 200 species a day. Our success as a species and our extravagant proliferation of needs has toxified the earth, air, sea and our own bodies. We operate often unthinkingly within the predatory paradigm of competition, mistrust, exploitation and greed. We have even killed millions of our own species, as we know over the centuries. In the 20th century alone over 230 million people died in wars and conflicts, most of whom were non-combatants. And today, statistics tell us, every hour about 40 people are murdered somewhere in the world: when will we say one murder is one too many; one rape is one too many?
Yet in spite of all this killing we are now dominant on this earth, perhaps to our own detriment and certainly to the detriment of other life forms. We fear death, but we inflict it on a massive scale. And now there looms the possibility of planetary death, or the extinction of our own species.
What a story to be living in our time!
Climate change or climate chaos in a very real sense is an existential threat, because we suffer from a primordial disorder that is in denial of our true vocation.
What is that vocation?
To step out of the delusion of separation and find redemption in the realm of inter-being, of self and other, self and world, not only through the cognitive realm, not as a concept, an idea, but in the felt realms of intimacy, of our innate gift of generosity and the realization that we cannot live without one another – we are a social species.
This is there articulated in the African Ubuntu concept: I cannot exist without you: you are therefore I am – the mutually reciprocal integrity and dignity of becoming optimally human.
One famous savant said: Never side with yourself. But we invariably do.
Periods of silence and solitude are very essential to becoming fully human, so that you have the opportunity to plumb your own intimate depths, to go through the abyss to this felt realization, and then find solidarity with others who have found ways, often extraordinary ways, of being aligned fully with their own inner truth in creative and compassionate acts of body, speech and mind.
So where does that leave us in this time of great crisis?
For me it is a need to nurture two qualities: Reverence and Wonder.
Reverence for all sentient life on earth, however small, even a mosquito.
Wonder at the sheer miracle of being alive even at this historically unprecedented moment where we find ourselves on the knife-edge between extinction and infinite possibility if we have the courage to step out of our pathology of denial and open our hearts to the infinite possibilities of a more beautiful world. And by possibility I do not mean simply the expansion of what already exists in some perhaps more equitable arrangement: for it is business as usual, it is more of the same, that is killing us. If there is even the remotest chance of coming out of denial and having the political will to turn the tide, to participate in what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning, the new world would have to be a global culture radically different, and one that fully recognized our true vocation. We know somewhere in our innermost depths that this is possible at the human level – otherwise what on earth was all this art, and music, and poetry and great wisdom teachings for? What was it all for?
A great poet Nathaniel Tarn wrote at the end of his early poem in the 1970s The Beautiful Contradictions, a whole part of which is devoted to accepting our mortality, which Tarn expresses as the worm of death at the core of our being. He wrote:
Perhaps we shall all meet one day on a long lawn at the age of eighty
And talk over tea or drinks why we did not love each other more.
It would be nice to think we don’t have to wait until we’re eighty or until there is no more grass on the lawn. But we don’t know. Let’s be honest and frank: the chances of that look increasingly bleak as the climate science statistics are updated more and more frequently as the pace of change seems to be accelerating fast beyond earlier predictions.
We must open ourselves to consider our lives beyond routine everyday survival tasks, and grant space to contemplate the immeasurable, the perennial issues of ultimate concern, and invite that infinite spaciousness into our lives, to come upon that clarity of comprehension that is wisdom, and to be willing to share it with others.
Take the first step today, if you haven’t already.
As Krishnamurti repeatedly said (and he was my teacher for a while in the late 70s and early 80s before he died) :
The first step is the last step:
You walk the path your feet make in your walking.
Find your own inner truth, the truth of your being, and turn the fires of craving, of greed, of anger, and delusion, into the fire of passion to become a sacred activist on behalf of all humanity and all sentient life.
What do I mean – all sentient beings? Is this another abstraction – or is it actually those I talk to every day at work, those I live with, the man who collects the garbage, the street hawker, the tree and the birds in my garden.
It is very easy to allow the daily Loving Kindness meditations we might do to become routine, something comforting, and to override the deep change that is required.
The practice means shifting the focus from self to others without feeling threatened – because this is your natural quality – nothing has to be imported from outside!
This is there in the idea of the Bodhisattva – it is such a noble ideal; the compassionate warrior who works non-violently to alleviate the suffering of others. This doesn’t require belief in anything. It is simply your own awakened nature, it is becoming aware of what you already know but have ignored.
The motivation is compassion, rather than hope: Whatever happens because I have trust, integrity, determination, and I understand the sanctity of life I will do whatever is necessary, suffer whatever hardship, for the benefit of others beyond my own family or close friends – and others includes all sentient beings.
How incredible somebody thought of this 2,500 years ago!
What have we done with this?
I know how difficult it is. I know how often I have failed – I have the intention, but everyday I have to be vigilant to the non-supporting factor where action does not support intention, and intention does not support action.
I may want to be more compassionate, but I try to be compassionate in a competitive way! Compassion and Competition don’t really mix!
And the other quality I feel is needed is to be able to live with rejection, with the scorn others may show you, and to be able to act without the expectation that you will ever witness the results of your action in your own lifetime. If you act from goodness and an open heart you just do it anyway. Not for gain.
How should we live now, amidst the confusion and chaos of this world, as we face the unraveling of a whole culture? I would say to anyone just take your life in your hands and squeeze the essence out of it. Go on a journey if necessary, save up, quit your job if it is in conflict with your ethics, and if you can join a community dedicated to healing the earth, or take a long break, go somewhere to nourish your soul - a distant country perhaps, or somewhere close to hand you never thought of going to, and open your heart to wonder at the uniqueness of your life amidst these manifold realms of being, without denying your solitude, and out of that aloneness create the conditions for the flowering of your freedom. Step out of the known, step out of the box you have created for yourself, and risk a thrilling voyage inwardly and outwardly as an expression of the truth of your being.
And even in the face of the Great Dying, living on an endangered planet, you can still love more freely, give more generously, live more intuitively. It will take the rest of my life. It may take the rest of your life, however long that is, but that’s fine. There’s nowhere else to go, nothing else really to do, but live your truth authentically.
The poet W.S. Merwin, who died last year aged 91 at home amidst his rare palm conservancy he had created on Maui, Hawaii, wrote:
On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
not the fruit
the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted
I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time
with the sun already
and the water
touching its roots
in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing
one by one
over its leaves
Whatever you do make it a thing of beauty, that comes from finding your inner truth and live it out with gratitude, and with compassion, even if it’s the last act you perform on this earth.
©David Beatty 2020