A Mystical Perspective on the Climate Emergency

What are we to do in our precarious climate situation today? It’s easy to feel powerless, helpless. Perhaps we should surrender to that, and fall into a Grace larger than ourselves.

A friend recently asked me by email where my head/heart was on the climate emergency these days. Ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit and Climate Week NYC this month (September 23-29, 2019), this was my response.

I saw a meme going around this morning:

The wrong Amazon is burning. The wrong ICE is melting.

The climate emergency hasn’t been a focus of my time recently, but it is still in the background of my mind. I am often saddened to see just how far we have ravaged the Earth, and how I have participated in that for the last four decades, and particularly over the last two decades as I’ve been unconsciously (and consciously) responsible for the manufacture and pollution of many tons of polypropylene plastic in the biosphere.

I often ask myself if it is too late for us to fix it, are we headed towards a cliff at 100mph, with only a few feet left to spare (or perhaps we are already over the edge, just waiting for gravity to take its toll)?

I was reminded of this when I read an article a couple weeks ago that said that if the nations and economies of the world are to make a difference that will meet the projected 2030 date the UN has proposed for radically turning our carbon emissions around, they really have to have those policies on the table by 2020, which is next year. Perhaps Bernie’s plan will help with that, but I am doubtful that Bernie is going to win the presidency.

I’m often reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words on the eve of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit:

All civilisations are impermanent and must come to an end one day. But if we continue on our current course, there’s no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed sooner than we think. The Earth may need millions of years to heal, to retrieve her balance and restore her beauty. She will be able to recover, but we humans and many other species will disappear, until the Earth can generate conditions to bring us forth again in new forms. Once we can accept the impermanence of our civilization with peace, we will be liberated from our fear. Only then will we have the strength, awakening and love we need to bring us together. Cherishing our precious Earth–falling in love with the Earth–is not an obligation. It is a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival.

Thich Nhat Hanh, “Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement on Climate Change for the United Nations,” https://plumvillage.org/letters-from-thay/thich-nhat-hanhs-statement-on-climate-change-for-unfccc/. “In 2014, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) approached Thich Nhat Hanh as an international faith leader, to request a brief statement about climate change and our relationship to one another and to the Earth. This statement was published on the UNFCCC website, ahead of the Paris Climate Summit in September 2015.

Perhaps this current human civilization is impermanent, and it will be destroyed. Maybe it will destroy itself. Can we accept this impermanence with peace? Will we be liberated from our fear that this century might be the end of humanity as we know it? Perhaps the solution is not to fear the end, but to show it may very well happen, to show that we may very well be past the point of no return. Perhaps only that will sufficiently awaken our society, jolt us into consciousness at our situation, wake us up. It seems to become more evident to me every day that nothing short of people awakening to greater consciousness will save us. So many are asleep at the wheel, and we know what happens then.

I wonder if we are focusing on the wrong things, trying to make intellectual arguments for clean energy, sustainable manufacturing, green industries, etc. But these seem to often fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. Perhaps we need to focus first on awakening first, on liberating consciousness, on transcending our egos. Perhaps only then will people be open to changing themselves, which is really what needs to happen. Massive numbers need to decide to change, to do things differently, and soon. I can’t see them doing that, unless they awaken, unless they realize what they are at a very deep level, what we are collectively, so that their eyes may be opened, and so that they will fall in love with Earth again, our home, our being, our substance.

How are massive numbers of people awakened? I went through my “awakening” only as a result of deep suffering, of losing my religion, of walking through a dark night of the soul, and beginning a dedicated meditation practice which opened me up to the realities of my own deepest being, and of all being. I was completely blind to this before, and I kicked against the pricks for many years. As Rohr sometimes says, transformation seems to only occur as a result of great love or great suffering. Perhaps our collective ego has to die before we will be reborn into a new collective consciousness.

I apologize if this sounds pessimistic. I just don’t know what we can do, and I’m searching and trying to make sense of why we are headed towards a cliff at 100mph. How did we get here? Why are we so blind, greedy, consumeristic, materialistic, egocentric, individualistic, lost in a culture of celebrity, entertainment, shopping, vanity, and carelessness? How did the most base, idiotic, shameful, divisive, racist, misogynistic, narcissist in the country become our president? And what will it take to jolt us awake, to stun us into consciousness, to open our eyes to our precarious condition? What will make current society die, so that a new comm-unity may be born? Will it take a revolution of some kind? What will be the cause of that great suffering or great love? How do we accept the impermanence of our civilization with peace, and be liberated from our fear?

So I guess that’s where my head/heart is these days.

My friend replied and reminded me that we are currently living in the Sixth Great Extinction of life on Earth. It’s happening now. It has already happened. The time has already come and is coming. He pointed out that “in my lifetime, we have wiped out the majority of the vertebrates on land and sea… we have already destroyed most advanced life in my lifetime and that is continuing even if Climate goes away as an issue.” Armageddon is already here. It is now. This is it. We are witnessing it. We are participating in it. As my friend said, “The battle is already lost for advanced life forms.” They are gone, and that includes us humans.

Fear mongering, you say? Maybe. But if that’s what it takes to wake us up, let’s monger all day long! We don’t have another option. Soon we may not be able to monger at all.

So what do we do? I wrote in another place:

What is the way forward? Perhaps straight through the 🔥🔥🔥. Maybe a collective ego death is the only thing that will bring collective awakening and rebirth to our true Self.

That said, most of the great sages, reformers, saints, mystics, and prophets of the world did something. They didn’t just wait for the world to burn down. They had a vision of what the world could be like, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” as Charles Eisenstein puts it, and they go to work actualizing that vision.

They didn’t wait around with front row seats to watch the flames devour everything. Awakened people know they are not separate from God, their will is at-one in God’s Will, and so they go to work actualizing that Will. They have laid down their egoic self for the good of all humanity, sacrificed that ego for all of Life and nature…

Perhaps our civilization as we know it is impermanent and must come to an end, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that humanity must come to an end. If we can accept the end of our civilization as we know it, our socio-economic system as we know it, our government as we know it, maybe we will have surrendered that collective ego to its death, and will have the strength and awakening and love sufficient to bring us together and survive.

Or at least, to be reborn from those flames.

I’ll end on a lighter note: Love wins.

“Consider the Lilies,” Bryce Haymond, 31 August 2019, watercolor on canvas.

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6 thoughts on “A Mystical Perspective on the Climate Emergency

  1. This post is timely as Climate Week approaches later this month. Thanks for your sharing on this topic. Feeling our oneness with life as we kill it off is an important practice for me. In response, I am called to simplify my life, as encouraged by the New England Transcendentalists. I was compelled to sign the U.N. Global Citizens Climate Pledge which guides us to reduce our carbon footprint and then to offset the rest with the purchase of offset credits, which can cost as little as $30 per year. How could I not make myself carbon neutral at this time? Joining with my fellow humans around the globe to eliminate our contribution to this crisis is one of the greatest acts of community and oneness that I can perform. I feel response-able and accept whatever outcomes emerge.

    1. Thank you, David. Good thoughts. I do wonder if offsetting our carbon footprint is enough. It perhaps would be if all people did it. But will that ever happen? Will even a moderate number do it? How do we convince everyone to participate? Or is there a deeper awakening that must happen first before people will be compelled to take such action? Must we first feel, deeply, our oneness with the Earth before we will want to take such action? What are your thoughts?

      1. I see a blog post below about the ego being crucified. This ego does not try to project what will ever happen. 🙂 For me, I don’t want to show up in the social space if I haven’t started by cleaning up my personal space, which is not that hard to do. In terms of convincing everyone, it seems to me that a global citizens climate pledge is a good place to start. Since there are only a few thousand signers among the 7+ billion people on the planet, I guess there is a little running room for people to get on board. In some religious denominations, there is a clamor to support the Paris Accord, but there is silence when individuals are asked to do their part as individual citizens. A recent op ed in a national newspaper reported that polls show that Americans would not be willing to spend more than $200 of their own money to solve climate change. I guess $30 is too high a price for the people I know. The U.N. won’t arrest someone if they only kick in $10. They just ask people to show up.

        In terms of our oneness with the Earth, I think there is a general consensus that a warmer earth will host more life than today’s earth. It is already observed to be greening up, as it did in historic warming periods. The increase in life will be tilted toward microbes and other simpler life forms. More advanced forms like vertebrates will continue to suffer. The Mass Extinction is already in progress with very little climate impact so far. If I feel deeply my oneness with Life, then I experience the fullness of more life that is coming while also feeling the loss of advanced forms, including perhaps significant reductions in the human population in some scenarios. This isn’t what my ego wants to see, but my oneness feels the energy of a life force that is perceived to be expanding in aggregate. I don’t know how not to celebrate this life energy at a deep level, and so this is a koan that I hold in my attention without knowing other answers.

  2. Climate change on Earth must be preceded by a change in our mental, political and financial perspectives. Until we intellectually recognize the problem, have the political will to correct it, and accept some short term financial pain for long-term gain, nothing appreciably will be done. Thinking, talking and worrying about it must be replaced by action.

    1. Ron, what do you think it will take for us to intellectually recognize the problem? Many still deny it. What action can we take to help us all wake up to the reality of the situation?

  3. Experts from around the world, including those of our own administration, have issued detailed warnings about the effects of climate change. The naysayers (they are also global) won’t change their mind until it personally affects them. If one of Trump’s coastal resorts is severely damaged, by a hurricane or rising water in the Atlantic, he might change his perspective.

    In the U.S. there have been 297 mass shootings (four or more killed at the same time) in the U.S. in the first eight months. Trump (and most Republicans) still thinks that more gun control laws are not necessary. He might only change his mind if one of his own family becomes a victim.

    Maya is not the same as stupidity.

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