I woke up very early this morning.
I have been sleeping relatively well in general lately, but the last couple days have been challenging, due to a combination of the early morning sun streaming in my side window at the wee hours (thank you northern hemisphere) and incessant and somewhat insanity-provoking meowing that occurs in my house between 3 and 5 am (thank you sometimes psychotic & needy cat) .
(my last teacher said my cat was a little boy in his last life who died by drowning, and so is therefore forever stuck at that emotional development stage. At about 3:45 in the morning this makes just so very much sense...)
While my partner stayed in bed for a while longer I strayed into the kitchen, made a tea and started perusing the interwebs for the 'interesting' items of news for the day.
Sadly, 'interesting' these last days hasn't been of the 'interesting-good' flavor, but very much in the line of 'interesting-holy-fuck' form and type, inundated as we have all been with news of fires, drought, chaos, financial ruin and species decline.
Of course there are still the random videos of kittens playing with puppies to keep us blissfully unaware, or photo montages of golden retrievers lounging placidly with budgies and hamsters crawling over them.. Still cute, sure. I do love a good cat video or interspecies friendship photo series just like the next person, but lately the big and ominous stuff has heavily outweighed the small and shiny and cute.
...Cats just aren't that funny when the world seems to be on fire.
And so this morning I read about the oncoming (or very much here already) decline.
I came across an article on facebook that was exploring the reality of our imminent environmental destruction, reflecting on the state of our atmosphere and climate and how fast things are changing, due to how many ways we are negatively influencing our environment and global temperatures in so-called 'feedback loops'.
(Feedback loops are situations like the warming of the planet causing ice melts which allow for the release of methane gas...which heats up the planet and causes ice melts, which....and on and on...).
Basically the long and short of the article is that everything is totally going to shit, and much faster than we thought it ever could, and that we can congratulate ourselves sometime in the not-so-distant-future for being the first known species to ever drive itself into extinction.
Delightful morning reading, right? We like to start the day off right around here.
Now this article wasn't all that shocking or overwhelming to me, honestly, as I keep myself fairly updated on the state of affairs in the world (or at least I like to think so) and am quite aware of how dire our circumstances are. What was shocking and somewhat wonderful (hear me out), however, was the perspective offered by the main scientist interviewed in the article, Guy McPherson.
McPherson has been a climate scientist for 30 years, and now travels and speaks on the topic of possible scenarios and outcomes for our human selves and brethren. He's 'pessimistic' if you want to call it that, quite certain that we will eradicate ourselves in the coming years, but seems oddly at ease with that because he has taken a very different perspective on things, death and all included.
McPherson believes that the knowledge that we are likely to kill off ourselves whilst destroying most of the other species on the planet might actually be a really good thing for us, driving us as a collective to think in terms of death as a reality, and to find clarity and purpose in that...instead of dancing around insanely pretending that 'the end' isn't going to happen, or that we can somehow hold off the inevitable.
I'm not just talking about the decline of our species though. I'm talking about the fact that all of us are going to die, and we just don't seem willing or able to be able to contemplate or live from that place fully. Much like Buddhists have meditated on death for millenia, he offers the proposition that a focus on living well by knowing the end is near in these last moments we have here might be the best thing for us.
Cause, really, what we have been doing in terms of environmental change and awareness in the last while is not working.
Despite a decade of very focused environmental attention and 'campaigns' to increase awareness of environmental (and social, and political, and financial) decline, we are perhaps now the least happy, most obese, most sick, most consumptive and--dare I say--most informed but least wise and/or proactive--population of humans that have ever existed here. And our environment is not getting any better.
It would appear that the more we focus on the bad and all that is going wrong in the world, the more we turn on that reptilian brain that resides within all of us, causing us to eat, buy, fight and dysfunctionally hypersexualize ourselves in order to deal with the stress of it all. This is what animals do when faced with stress: they reproduce madly (hoping that some of their offspring will make it through), they eat a ton, and they fight. This is what we are doing all the time: we feel stress, we don't know how to deal with it, and so we buy or eat something.
When faced with calamity, our fearful brains really can't go to the place of 'Oh right, let me try to do something proactive about that', but revert, most often, to a self-centered and self-preserving mode of function.
Look at Vancouver right now: once water restrictions were put into place recently the use of water in the city skyrocketed. uh....WTF, humans?
But THIS IS WHAT OUR BRAINS DO. When faced with imminent danger (and when we have not spend adequate time developing ourselves or perhaps have just undergone so much trauma in our lives that it's impossible to operate from our higher brain structures...which is most of our population) we think only of ourselves and perhaps our closest family. We are selfish, disconnected and violent. When offered a perspective on the world that suggests that things are going to shit, we don't extend our compassion and love to a wider and wider circle, but close in and shut down just as our brain does, stepping down into our evolutionary past that hides within the reactive recesses of our amygdala, stuck in the archaic pattern of flight, flight or fuck, just like animals.
When we contemplate death we do something that animals cannot ever do. When we contemplate the impermanence of our existence and of all that is we step out of our bubble of blame and reaction and into something bigger, something with a wider expanse of possibility and perspective. We, paradoxically, in the exploration of death as a certainty, find the possibility for great love, great caring and great compassion. We realize that life is a precious thing that deserves absolute presence and mindfulness, and we cultivate kindness in our every action. We shift out of the basic structures of our brains and into the higher ones, the places where intuition, creativity and connection reside.
The French philosopher Montaigne said, " To practice death is to practice freedom."
What I feel he meant by this was that true freedom (not freeeeeeeedom with an Irish accent a la Mel Gibson, nor FREEDOM like the good ol' USA)--the freedom that exists when one is free of the tyranny of an untrained and fearful mind--is to be found when we remember that we are only here for a short time, and that all things change, evolve and fall away, that nothing is permanent. Freedom is not an external construct, he is suggesting, but something that can be cultivated through an active and consistent attention to the fact that all of us will die. And this is a beautiful thing because it makes us love this life so much more while we're here.
McPherson has started a website called 'only love remains' where he and his team explore these ideas, and how we can all benefit from them.
I like this idea. I want to see it expanded on and spoken about, because I am quite certain that there is very little time to keep banging our heads against another 'emissions reduction plan' or some such nonsense. Our lower brains got us to this point, living as we have with no awareness or consideration of the system within which we exist for so long...only our higher brains (truly, our hearts) are going to get us out of it.
I also like this idea because I am a miracle-minded person, and I trust in the reality of a participatory universe. I know that each of our conscious thoughts are affecting and creating the possibility of this reality in every moment, and that there is always space for the miraculous to occur in our daily lives if enough energy and momentum get behind something. I would like to stay on this planet for a while longer, and while I'm okay with departing it if it comes to that, I would also love to see what kind of ingenuity could come from a heart-centered and death-aware population of humans working towards a compassionate future here. I would like to see if the collective shift in our species from fear--and whether you're fearing terrorists, your government, or environmental decline or sociological failure it doesn't matter, you're still contributing fear to the whole--into love might actually do something we can't anticipate yet.
I met a Mexican Shaman many years ago in Vancouver, one of the first Shamans who came across my path.
He was a beautiful and otherworldly man. Amidst other bits of wisdom, he told me that consciousness had attempted to evolve past this point that we are at right now--past the point where it was living in a constant state of fear and separation--77,000 times before, and that 77,000 times things had fallen apart, the reset button had been set, and the whole system had started again. Perhaps this did not happen on earth, but it happened somewhere in our universe, according to him. While there was a lightness to this thought and idea (certainly doesn't seem like that much of a failure to be doing what we're doing now, I suppose), there was also the question of why this time around might be any different?
At that, at my asking of the question he shrugged and smiled broadly.
'It is different', he said. "It's different every time. Every time we have the possibility to live from our hearts. This time we will remember."
My life is dedicated to the practice of releasing fear.
I know that the world is a scary and horrifying place right now, but great challenge always holds within it the greatest possibility of growth and change.
Let us not fall back into our animalistic histories and habits, and let us continue to contemplate death so that we live fully and with the most open hearts possible. Let us all release our fear and seek to fill our minds with wisdom, gratitude, compassion and kindness.
Let us evolve, cause I think we will still get it this time.