Yesterday, I read a very moving account by Chris Corrigan of a formative experience he had at a gathering in Hawaii last year. I was particularly struck by one passage:
On the morning of the fourth day I rose early and went with my friends and colleagues to the lookout over the crater where we held a morning sunrise every day. About 30 of us huddled in the sharp wind and rain and awaited the rising sun. As the time approached, Luana began her chanting in her beautiful sonorous voice, wavering in the cold morning air, as if calling the sun to its place in the sky. It strikes me that everyday, somewhere in the world, every sunrise is welcomed in ceremony by people. Doing it in Hawai’i, we were the last people on earth to welcome June 25. A nearly full moon set, and the sun rose, and my world cracked open.
It was a strong and powerful feeling that rose inside my body, from my belly to my throat, where it got stuck. I started crying a little at first and then completely broke down in sobs. I was shaking in whole body sobs, out of my mind with grief. I had two powerful thoughts: one was of people in Aboriginal communities committing suicide and the other was the thought of shame. The image was haunting: it was as if everything we had tried to do was a failure and we were out of options. It was my biggest fear that this work, with good-hearted conscious people, was not enough. It was not enough for any of us and it was not doing anything to change the fate of Aboriginal communities. We were not playing at the level of real need, real fear, real darkness. We were rich and privileged people pushing around the discretionary bits of our lives. So from that place I felt tremendous shame. Shame that I couldn’t do this, that I was an impostor, that I was not who I or anyone else needed me to be. Shame that my indulgence was costing something.
This confession of stark questioning, this total surrender to doubt in our most deeply cherished values, meanings and illusions, is something I recognise from my own existential crisis at the beginning of last year. That sense of just not knowing what it’s all for, of loosening my grip on all the stories I had been telling myself about why my life was worth living for long enough to take a good, sober look at them; to hold them up against the inrushing flood of evidence that our civilisation is decadent and doomed, that it’s too late to save it and that my children will bear the brunt of a future that is much harder than anything I have experienced…
A year has passed, for me, since that crisis. And I’ve bounced back. I’m still working in the same old place – although many things have changed. The Dorpsstraat project has come into my life, for one thing…
I regularly have conversations with folk who are passionate about defending biodiversity, about human rights, about designing a resilient future so that our civilisation can continue to thrive, about human emergence … people who refuse to let go, refuse to contemplate failure. I don’t know what possesses me, but sometimes, particularly with my closest friends, I can’t help driving a wedge into each tiny crack I see in their convictions – just in order to nudge them over the brink into that experience of supreme vulnerability, that moment of facing the stark existential terror that what we think we’re living for is a sham, an illusion, doomed to failure… Not a very nice friend, eh?!
But here’s the mystery. I no longer know why I’m doing what I’m doing. I really do believe that my efforts are doomed to failure. I won’t succeed in changing even my small part of the world. I truly believe that our civilisation will not change its unsustainable ways before it falls over the cliff. I only know that I am still called to act, to care, to strive, to stand up for what I cannot resist the call to stand up for – and above all, to participate.
The Buddhists say “abandon all hope of fruition”. I feel much stronger, more grounded and resilient, now that I have accepted the inevitability of what I most fear. I no longer feel I have anything left to defend or protect (although I still catch myself doing so occasionally in moments of less-than-consciousness – but when I do, I can just drop it) other than my own body and the physical and emotional integrity of my children.
These days, my greatest joy is simply to be a consenting instrument of the Kosmos. All I need to do is follow the call, when it comes, from my deepest core which is also my umbilical connection to the Whole. And for the rest of the time, I can just do what I feel like. The will to live and act no longer seems to come from my own individual meaning-making capacity. Somehow that didn’t cut it, and went over the cliff. What remains is to participate, all unknowing, in the meaning-making of the Whole.
The reward is an unselfconscious pleasure and peace of mind in daily life, and a sense of surrender to being who I am, without the conscious self-judgement, self-censure and self-control I used to subject myself to in order to stay ‘safe’. Following the logic of this philosophy, my mantra for this year is “what if it’s easy?” And it usually turns out to be exactly that. I still get to explode with frustration and irritation, I get to be obnoxious to the people I love most – I get to apologise and be forgiven, and to pull them over the cliff with me, knowing that we are safe.