It's almost 2008, and in the final hours of 2007, I'm reflecting on the past twelve months and what may lie ahead of us in the coming year. It's been a dreary year for planet earth-scientists telling us that climate change has passed the point of no return; the almost-daily blasting away of civil liberties in the U.S. with nary a peep from its citizens; endless war that produces little but nauseating carnage in the Middle East and a steady stream of suiciding or physically and emotionally devastated veterans, and of course, a housing bubble burst that has left thousands of families suffocating in debt, bankruptcy, and foreclosure.
Some readers would like me to stop talking about collapse and re-frame the notion into "spiritually correct" terminology that isn't as scary, daunting, and dismal. Many more of you are telling me that you do want to talk about collapse because even with all the opportunities for rebirth and transformation that it holds, the world we have known, demanded, and relied on to be there for us is crumbling. I too would love to focus only on opportunity, but opportunity offers no free lunch; it travels alongside this thing called collapse, and if you're going to embrace one, you must be prepared to invite the other.
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As you know, I'm traveling, and in the interest of conserving petroleum and not subjecting myself to Homeland Security "fraternity hazings", as well as mind and body-numbing flight delays, I took the train. I dare you to do it and not talk about collapse. There it is-the rail industry, which once ruled this nation's economy, now limited to a laughable loop of routes that never run on time and needed to be radically expanded yesterday in order to ameliorate the catastrophic consequences of energy depletion. So why would I prefer the train when it runs like a Spanish post office and experiences unpredictable delays? Because I'm a sucker for being able to stretch out and sleep, read, work on the computer, or even better, get up and walk around. All of this, of course, in the context of a system that shuffles around poor people, seniors on fixed incomes, and a few of us that just simply prefer to ride the rails as the empire circles the drain. Perhaps Amtrak is the consummate metaphor for collapse: You never know exactly when or how it will arrive, only that it will.
Debbie Ford in The Dark Side Of The Light-Chasers notes that in Western culture we are taught to feel only certain emotions and express only certain characteristics that are "acceptable". It's not acceptable to express anger, especially for females, and it is assumed that "nice people" don't get angry. Sadness is somewhat more acceptable, but most people in our culture are afraid of becoming depressed, so a couple of tears every decade are tolerated. Fear is an emotion that permeates our society, but for all the wrong reasons. We fear radical Islamic terrorists, and we are told that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq and Afghanistan because "if we don't fight them there, we'll have to fight them here." Prior to 9/11, our government assured us that it was taking care of everything, so we had nothing to fear. Today, it sends the unmistakable message that we should "be afraid, be very afraid."
Debbie Ford's work is important because she assures us that no emotion is "unacceptable" and that all are integral and important aspects in the spectrum of our humanity. "We are born with the ability to express this entire spectrum of characteristics," Ford says, and cautions us that we pay a price when we don't.
As I have written in other articles this past year, fear is a fundamental human emotion that serves the evolutionary purpose of assisting our species' survival. Like any other human emotion, we can become mired in it-as I would argue most of American society has-or we can utilize it creatively to motivate us to act on behalf of ourselves, our loved ones, and our local communities.
One of the many beautiful gifts I received during this holiday season was a quote from David Deida that a friend shared with me. While I don't necessarily agree with everything Deida writes, I found his "yoga of fear" statement stunning.
Your fear is the sharpest definition of your self. You should knowThe quality of fear that Deida describes is not Homeland Security Horror, but rather, conscious attention to the emotion of fear as a companion and teacher which puts us at our edge and actually provides clarity. In fact, all emotions, if consciously felt and worked with in a similar manner can empower rather than paralyze us.
it. You should feel it virtually constantly. Fear needs to become your
friend, so that you are no longer uncomfortable with it. Rather,
primary fear shows you that your are at your edge. Staying with the
fear, staying at your edge, allows real transformation to occur.
Neither lazy nor aggressive, laying your edge allows you to perceive
the moment with the least amount of distortion. You are willing to be
with what is rather than trying to escape it by pulling back from it,
or trying to escape it by pushing beyond it into some future goal.
Deida continues with a caveat:
Fear of fear may lead you to hang back, living a lesser life than youSo it's important not to be afraid of fear because fear could lead us to live a lesser life, but it doesn't have to. It's all about feeling our feelings in the moment. "Alive and humble spontanaeity"? Being "ready for the unknown as it unfolds"? These byproducts of fear could be incredibly useful. Then comes the real challenge:
are capable. Fear of fear may lead you to push ahead, living a false
life, off-center, tense and missing the moment. But the capacity to
feel this moment, including your fear, without trying to escape it,
creates a state of alive and humble spontaneity. You are ready for the
unknown as it unfolds, since you are not pulled back or pushed forward
from the horizon of the moment. You are hanging right over the edge.
By leaning just beyond your fear, you challenge your limitsA decade ago a popular bumper sticker was ubiquitous: "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." But 2007 has given us much to be angry, sad, and scared about, and that means it has brought forth a host of emotions that offer grist for the mill of our consciousness and deepening humanity if we are willing to own them and lean beyond them, but let us not forget that we don't get to the "beyond" until we are willing to go "through."
compassionately, without trying to escape the feeling of fear itself.
You step beyond the solid ground of security with an open heart. You
stand in the space of unknowingness, raw and awake. Here, the gravity of deep being will attend you to the only place where fear is obsolete: the eternal free fall of home. Where you always are.
Own your fear, and lean just beyond it. In every aspect of your life.
Debbie Ford explains the Jungian concept of the "shadow" or those parts of ourselves that we send away because they aren't "acceptable." Like Jung, she notices the treasure that the shadow holds when we stop running from it and explains that:
Instead of trying to suppress our shadows, we need to unconceal, own and embrace the very things we are most afraid of facing. By "own," I mean acknowledge that a quality belongs to you..... Our shadows hold the essence of who we are. They hold our most treasured gifts. By facing these aspects of ourselves, we become free to experience our glorious totality: the good and the bad, the dark and the light. It is by embracing all of who we are that we earn the freedom to choose what we do in this world. As long as we keep hiding, masquerading, and projecting what is inside us, we have no freedom to be and no freedom to choose.Owning our emotions about the state of our planet, and I might add, talking about them, may not only empower us, but illumine our choices as we navigate omnipresent dissolution.
Professor Michael Byron, author of the soon-to-be-released The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad recently posted on his blog "2012 As I See It" in which he states that the year 2012, made significant by Mayan prophecies, is in the popular imagination as a time of convergence of the many daunting issues the human and non-human worlds face such as climate change, Peak Oil, species extinction, and population overshoot. Near the end of his blog post, Byron states that "2012 serves as a compelling warning to change our world's fate by changing ourselves, or face the consequences of our failure to change. Certainly we have no one other than ourselves to blame for what may happen in the near future."
The reality of collapse repeatedly comes back to one issue: changing ourselves by not only making changes in our patterns of consumption but changing who we fundamentally are. I believe that we cannot do this effectively unless we are willing to fully experience our emotions about the dissolution of civilization.
In researching the etymology of the word surrender, I notice that it is not about resignation or giving up, but rather "giving up oneself." The "self" that must be "given up" in my opinion is the human ego that insists on the heroic invincibility of civilization-that the current state of the planet and its inhabitants is preferable to its collapse.
We are surrounded with a culture that is either totally oblivious to collapse or is working overtime to hold its crumbling pieces together. Neither perspective is useful in the face of the inevitable, and I am reluctant to return to the analogy of the Titanic yet again, but it begs to be called forth-repeatedly. Rose and Jack jumped; only one of them survived, but they jumped nevertheless. What is most needed in our own psyches as 2007 becomes 2008, is a willingness to "jump ship" and surrender to collapse and all of its opportunities, which we cannot discover apart from surrendering our ego investment in the world as we have known it.
Paradoxically, when the ego surrenders, the result is almost always clarity regarding our choices, and frequently choices appear where previously none were.
I realize that what I'm suggesting is not easily assimilated by parents and grandparents-or anyone for that matter. Who can bear to contemplate the suffering of one's progeny? Yet the human race has created a world in which suffering is inescapable whether we attempt to avoid it or remain unconscious. Jung wrote that all mental illness is the result of the avoidance of legitimate suffering.
What we might learn from cultures more mature than our own is the long-term value of discomfort, pain, uncertainty, and of course, feeling our feelings about those. These are not easy tasks, but then as you may have noticed, we do not live in easy times. In summary, these words from Scott Peck succinctly capture my point: Once suffering is accepted, it ceases in a sense to be suffering.
For all readers of Truth To Power, I wish an enriching and empowering 2008. May it be for you a year of stepping into a new paradigm, preparing, and becoming open to the dissolution of life as we have known it.
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