Few of us talk about the inner side of climate change, surfacing the inner angst, sense of pressure or despair we may feel. But when we do we see it as a burden and a problem. It shows up as, “Oh my god, how am I going to be with this?” A hundred, a thousand questions arise: how will our families understand it, how real is the science, Green New Deal?, how does Climate Change fit in with Focusing or other practices, what are the implications for counseling, political considerations. The list is endless. We don’t know where to start. The point is we experience climate change as burden and we talk about it in those terms, a problem to be fixed. In short we wish it would go away.
I don’t deny the sense of burden at all. An underlying dynamic there is that the burden shouldn’t be there and that climate change shouldn’t be there. We frame it as a problem. We treat it much like our world generally treats death, as a consummation to be avoided at all costs. But as we know, many experience the spiritual acceptance, peace and love they’ve never experienced before as they approach their deaths. And many who witness others in this process do too.
I’m not saying by this comparison that climate change means we’re all going to die. I truly don’t know that and am not invested in it. But it seems very sure that much of what we’re identified with isn’t going to survive. It seems clear that some parts of our identity based on our lifestyle are going to “die,” metaphorically speaking. (I like Jem Bendell’s formulation that collapse is inevitable, catastrophe probable, and extinction possible.) As a simple example, we’re quickly depleting a limited resource base – but you know that.
Climate change as problem is rooted in the same mind that sees death, whether literal or figurative, a problem. It’s the problem of denial. But never before have we collectively faced the problem of denial, or of death. We’ve just quietly gone on our way out the door into the great beyond, single file and one by one. But we’re not dead yet. We’re still here and we’re here in the same room.
So what is this that we’re confronting, here together. And there’s that confronting word, a problem again.
We’re in this together and we’re in this as individual consciousness.
But here’s the rub. Climate change is not an individual problem primarily. Actually, none of our problems are individual problems primarily. Treating climate change as an individual problem gets off on the wrong foot by missing the crucial context, that we’re in this together.
Desperately, intimately, we’re thrown together in this situation where what it means to be human and alive is right there in the middle of the room with us. The question we never asked is being asked now.
I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s question, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”. But here together the question becomes “What are we going to do with our wild and precious life?” What are we going to do with our wild and precious common life? Which is our consciousness, our one mind. “Consciousness” is in no way an abstraction. It’s a lived experience. We’ve always lived in consciousness but are usually distracted by the getting and losing that are the concerns of the usual day. (The word I like for it is Presence because it reflects the intimacy and relationship more clearly. I don’t use the word because people have no idea what it means.)
The ability to tune into Presence with each other is natural to us, very like what it is to be human. But it’s usually unnoticed and is eagerly practiced even less. I find it highly useful to turn my attention into this common space, rather than pre-select working on my worry or private issue, though that’s there too. My private issue often opens up into the common space, releases and lets go. Symbolically it “dies” into the greater life. Then we become curious about whatever-you-call-it after that surrender. It’s not a word.
It’s celebrating our moment-to-moment experience of consciousness or Presence. And it’s celebrating how each one of us is experiencing it differently, growing our collective learning, helping us rise to new understandings. All of this is a far cry from the lonely, though entirely understandable bewailing of our outcast fates.
(If you like, come join a simple exercise in group exploration this Sunday, July 14th. Details here.