I believe that humanity can survive the crises that are mounting around us – but that our ability to make it will depend on us forging a new kind of clarity. Specifically, we need to shed light on the story we tell ourselves about what it means to be human. It’s a story almost too familiar to question, yet it provokes fantasies of limitless growth and power, and puts us on a collision course with the realities of our world. I believe this story is the single greatest danger to our survival. I also believe that the single most dangerous effect of this story is the way it estranges us from our own bodies, and makes that feel normal.
In this moment, countless species on Earth, including humans, are approaching the end of their existence. While scientific data continues to suggest extinction events occurring sooner, rather than later, no one knows with certainty when or how these will occur. The only thing we know with certainty is that each of us has a choice about how we will meet our demise. While it is crucial to know the facts, it is equally crucial to live as if there were no tomorrow because tomorrow doesn’t exist. The only moment that does exist is this one. Will we spend the rest of our days either dining on doom or drowning in denial or like Seymour, feast on what lights us up?
What is it like to be a rhino? To be a policeman? A corporate executive, a terrorist, a killer? What is it like to be a river? These questions arise naturally in the story that Thich Nhat Hanh named interbeing, that holds us as interdependent on every level, even that of basic existence. It is the successor to the story of the separate self, and it opens us to compassion and grief alike.
Be willing to step into, not turn away from, the crisis of our times. My grandparents, a musician and artist, were lovers of beauty. They were unlikely people to step into acts of questionable legality, then abandon their comfortable lives and multi-century history with their country for the uncertain life of “penniless refugees”. Good thing that they were willing to step into this uncomfortable place – for them, for my mother and for me. Offering to others, offering to the future, will widen your vision and horizon – and deepen your life’s meaning. Your life may grow and expand in surprising, meaningful, and beautiful ways. There is a great gift to self in offering yourself to others, to the future.
In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life.