[Note: In this interview, Alex refers to Carolyn as a “psychologist.” This is inaccurate as Carolyn is a former psychotherapist and has never been a psychologist.]
AS: What if long-standing institutions stagger and fall here at home? How will any of us get ready for rapid change when our wants are not filled by shopping, when supermarkets are replaced by much smaller local resources, when oil becomes like gold? As we see, all this can come sooner and faster than any of us expected. That is the point of Deep Transition, and we have a guide for you, coming up.
Eight years ago when Carolyn Baker started talking about a developing crisis in civilization, she was criticized, even rejected by some, as a fringe personality. Why would an adjunct professor of history and psychology and a practicing psychotherapist start talking like that? Now Dr. Baker is at the center of the Transition movement in America, people seek her out to help them understand a bankrupt economy, rising oil and food prices, and a crazy climate. They want to know what to do and how to cope personally. She’s a tireless teacher, news organizer, analyst, and communicator. Radio Eco-Shock talked with Carolyn Baker about a year ago in March, 2010. Now she’s back with a helpful new book called Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition. Carolyn, welcome back.
CB: It’s good to be back Alex, thank you.
AS: Well what a year it has been! The climate is raging, the economy is just a paper mache mask it seems, and all sorts of authorities admit peak oil is here. How do you keep going in this whirlwhind?
CB: Well, one of the ways I sustain myself is by having created community around me, having a good strong support system of other people who are aware of the situation, and really sharing my life with those folks and them with me. That’s a big piece, and then just kind of sitting back and seeing that a lot of things that I’ve been talking about since really the year 2000 are current, everyday news. They’re no longer projections or prognostications; they’re current history.
AS: I’ve noticed a real demographic shift in public meetings about peak oil or climate change or even the economic crisis. It used to be, Carolyn, a room full of older men, and they would talk about escape to some far away place or guns even. This year, there are many more women than men, and women of all ages, and they talk about community and connecting. Why do you think this change has happened?
CB: Well I think a huge milestone was the financial crisis of 2008, massive unemployment that we now have all over the country and the world, a raging food crisis that is kind of the next thing in our face, and it’s a really, really big one, and people just beginning to realize that something enormous has shifted in the planet and in human consciousness. And yes, we now have a woman on the board of ASPO, the Association For The Study of Peak Oil, Sharon Astyk, who has her own little farming community in upstate New York and has a wonderful blog that I refer to on many occasions, and we have women, men, and everyone really concerned about these issues—many, many more people waking up. I’m not saying that it’s a majority of folks, but it’s really encouraging to see this groundswell in the last two or three years.
AS: Carolyn, I did call you to talk about Transition. You picked at a nerve in the Transition movement, including a polite disagreement with Transition founder, Rob Hopkins, by calling for a different kind of preparation, something different from growing our own food or storing supplies. Tell us about that.
CB: Well, I believe that all movements, if they are healthy, evolve and shift and change and from time to time, have to look at some of their assumptions in relationship with what’s going on in the world. And so one of the things I’ve been looking at over the last year, and my friend, Michael Brownlee, who also lives here in Boulder, Colorado with whom I do a great deal of work, we’ve all been looking at what’s missing in the Transition movement. You know, recently Pat Murphy from Community Solutions wrote an article with the title, “Is Transition Viral?” any longer. Is it spreading and growing with the speed that it did before, say two or three years ago? Because something seems to be missing. And so Michael Brownlee wrote an essay on the evolution of Transition, and one of the things he talks about is Deep Transition which is about looking more at the spiritual and emotional issues of Transition, and actually there is a large section in the Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins that talks about the heart and soul aspects of Transition and the psychology of change. And so what all the folks who are interested in Deep Transition are saying is that we need to go deeper with these perspectives and focus on this or perhaps give it as much time as we are giving the logistics of awareness raising, reskilling, and storing food and those kinds of things.
AS: Yes, we talk about collapse, but it’s rather academic, and I think people in wealthy nations are nowhere near prepared for the awful shock of energy descent and financial uncertainty, and a freaky, damaged climate. We’re not ready inside, so why don’t we start with what you mean by the word “sacred?”
CB: You know, the word sacred just means set apart or special, and it’s somewhat synonymous with the word spirit. The term that I really prefer is transpersonal—something that is beyond the rational mind and the human ego, something greater—a greater self or a greater energy within us that we can draw on that can give us a greater perspective and that is really connected with our emotions. You know, we look ahead to what we think is the landscape of this huge transition, and we say, “Well, it’s probably going to look like this,” or “there’s good reason to think it’s going to look like that,” and we think about that in our heads, but it somehow doesn’t translate down to our gut and to the emotions of what will that feel like? What is it going to feel like to live in a world where we don’t have fossil fuel? What is it going to feel like if we have drastic climate change going on around us, and severe droughts and these extreme weather events that we’ve been having? If all of that intensifies, what is it going to look like and feel like in our gut if we don’t have a money system anymore as we know it today? And not to mention that there may be a lot of people who can’t get health care and are just dying all around us? Or disasters that are causing mass deaths? What is that going to feel like? And so we need to do some emotional preparation for that, and of course, we can never prepare ourselves fully, but if we now start tuning in to how this collapse feels right now, it’s going to help us in the future to navigate these things emotionally and spiritually as well as intellectually.
AS: Boy you stimulated a lot of thinking me right now. I’m thinking of people digging out from the extreme precipitation events in the Northeast with all that snow. They’re angry. You’ve got people who may be 48 years old. They had a good career, good house, now they’re out of work, and nobody wants them anymore, so the American way of life is just something in the past for them. They’re moving into a motor home, maybe, if that. There’s going to be, and there already are, a lot of upset people. It’s going to be, even for those of us who are hanging on, who have a job still, it’s going to be painful to see this happen to our society.
CB: Absolutely, and I’m not a person who says, “Well, let’s never have any fun” because I’m a great advocate for joy and fun and play, and I love that as much as anyone else, AND this culture has become addicted to feeling good. Well, a lot of things are happening around us right now that do not feel good, and as those things intensify in the future, it’s going to feel even worse. And I have a section in my new book Navigating The Coming Chaos on dealing with the dark emotions. There’s a wonderful psychologist who lives in the Northeast, her name is Miriam Greenspan, and she has written a wonderful book called Healing Through The Dark Emotions. How do we befriend our grief, anger, despair, fear and other emotions in this coming chaos? How do we manage our anger, fear, terror, and despair? And how do we cultivate compassion and also cultivate courage in the face of all these events? You know, Americans haven’t wanted to look at unpleasant emotions, but now we’re being forced to. And alongside that, I strongly advocate implementing ways in our lives of creating joy, creating beauty. I’ve talked with some people recently who’ve said, “Yeah, it takes a lot of work to prepare for the future, but it’s also sometimes a lot of fun because we do this with our community, and we develop a sense of camaraderie and taking care of each other, and in the process sometimes, we just downright have fun.
AS: Well some Transition organizers say, “Well don’t paint a dark picture because it just frightens people away,” but you’ve run workshops, and you counsel people about these dark emotions, can you tell us a couple of stories of what people are going through?
CB: Well, I will, but I want to preface those stories with this: I disagree that we shouldn’t be talking about the realities of collapse because we’ll scare people. The truth is, Alex, that people are already scared. They may not know exactly what they’re scared of or why, but people basically, I believe, are deeply, deeply frightened and anxious about the future because it is so uncertain in a way that it never has been before.
So I’ve had some instances over the last year in particular where I’ve had folks call me and say, “You know, I’m having uncertainty about what to do with my life. It may be a person in their twenties who’s just graduating from college, and they realize, you know, I’ve got all this student loan debt, and I realize there aren’t any real jobs out there for me, and I don’t want to go in the traditional direction—I don’t want to go into what I was trained for; I want to do something that’s going to make a difference in this huge transition. I’ve talked to folks like that for example. I have a collapse coaching practice or Transition Counseling practice if you want to call it that, where people call me from all over the world and talk about these things.
Another story that’s one of my favorites has to do with my Daily News Digest that I publish seven days weekly and is subscription based. A few months ago I had a man cancel his subscription, so I emailed him and said, “You’ve been with us for a long time, and you’ve canceled your subscription, what’s happening, can I help in some way?” And he emailed me back and said, “Well my wife is so disturbed by all of this news that—well, we just can’t have this coming to us anymore.” So I emailed him back and said, “Well, if there’s something I can do to help, if you’d like to talk about this, let me know.” Then I got an email from his wife just a few minutes later in which she said, “Don’t contact us anymore. My husband is having issues with mental illness.” And so, I’m looking at this and thinking, “Who’s telling the truth, who’s right or wrong, what’s going on?” It was very indicative to me of an issue that I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks this past year who have called me up saying, “I’m really on board with collapse and transition—I understand what’s happening, but my partner doesn’t want to hear about it, and we’re having this big issue because I can’t really talk about it with him or her. What do I do with the children? How do I talk to them? How do I prepare them?”
And so families are really in distress about this, and I’ve created a workshop called “Relationships In The Long Emergency” which I’m ready and willing to take on the road to come to peoples’ communities and present this workshop for families and partners who are having to struggle with these issues.
AS: And I’ve met a lot of people who are right in that boat, you know, “My husband or my wife doesn’t really understand that I’ve got some buckets of wheat in the basement, but they think I’m crazy, but I’m looking at the way the stock market’s propped up, I’m looking at bankrupt banks, and I’m looking at a lot of things, and I feel better just having just having these supplies around.” So I think you’ve hit it right on the head regarding relationships in the Long Emergency, and you’ve got some great information on your website about his at www.carolynbaker.net about that, and I recommend it.
AS: In the end of your new book, Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition, you toss in something new to the Transition toolbox which you call “Elderhood At Any Age.” Is this an ideal, or can it be practical?”
CB: Well I think it’s very practical. I believe that those of us who have been looking at this for a long time, who have been preparing and talking about it with others are in a sense, elders for the culture. Now why do I use that word, and why do I think it’s important? In my last book, Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, I talked extensively in that book about how I perceive this transition as a cultural initiatory experience such as we see in traditional, indigenous societies where there’s a rite of passage for young people from childhood to adulthood, and I see that as what is happening externally in our world with this huge transition. We are going through an initiatory experience as human beings. We don’t know what the other side is going to look like, but we know from initiations that we’ve studied in other cultures that the person going through the initiation is profoundly transformed, and something in them shifts to a place of maturity and adulthood where they never see the world the same again. So as they go through that process, the whole situation is created for them and guarded for them, and they are protected as they go through this by tribal elders. And so I see us as a culture going through this initiatory experience, and we need to have people who have been around for awhile studying this transition and have been preparing on deeper levels who can hold the space for the culture as it goes through this. So whether you’re 28 or 58 or 88, you can be an elder in this process for the rest of the culture.
AS: In your foreword to the book you quote Vaclev Havel saying that we really have to rediscover what our purpose is here on earth, that new institutions or new technology are not going to be enough; we have to rediscover ourselves and yet sages have tried to do this for millennia, and it’s pretty hard. How are we expected to do that while we’re holding a job, raising a children and doing all that—how can we re-define what the human experience is?
CB: Well, I think we’re going to be forced to by these events that are taking place. Business as usual is over. Life is not just going to go on the way it has been. Yes, we’ll have tasks. I don’t know if we can call them jobs because I think that jobs as we know them are on the way out. We’ll have tasks, responsibilities, families, children to raise, but as we go through this tremendous transition which will be joyous in many ways and catastrophic in other ways, we will be forced to find meaning—to stand back and say, “What is this all about?” And more specifically, “What am I all about? What is my purpose here in the midst of all of this?”
I also quote in the Introduction John Peterson from the Arlington Institute whom I had the privilege of hearing speak last summer, and he talked about finding our purpose, and he said, “Just ask, ask that greater self inside of you—not some minister or authority figure, but ask the ultimate authority within yourself “What is my purpose? What should I be doing? How best can I use my talents and skills in this Long Emergency?”
AS: And I think that listeners right now are experiencing one of the benefits that you offer which is that you link to a lot of other really bright minds that are working on this problem and sort of bring it together for us in a way that we just wouldn’t otherwise see. Is that what you’re doing with your Daily News Digest? What is the Daily News Digest?
CB: Well what I do seven days a week is carefully gather and bundle news stories from all over the world with an eye to: How do these stories speak to this collapse and transition and Great Turning that we’re going through right now? I have two sections in the Daily News Digest. The first is called “Real News,” and a lot of it is news that you might not see on the front page of your local newspaper, and then I have another section called “Real Options” in which I post stories that talk about possible ways to deal with the news you’re reading every day. So I think that’s important—to put together the bad news of what’s happening with the good news of various possibilities for responding to the bad news.
AS: I’m sure that I’ve missed some important things. What else would you like to talk to our listeners about?
CB:Well, I’d really like to tell them about an exciting online course that I’ll be teaching with Post Peak Living beginning April 9 on my book, Navigating The Coming Chaos. This is a wonderful place to connect with other people who share similar concerns and be able to talk about them. Please go to www.postpeakliving.com for more information.
AS: I have one parting question: Why do we do this? I volunteer my time, you give away time and advice—it’s not for the money. Why do we do it?
CB: For me, it’s the only game in town, and what I’m about is not preventing this catastrophic collapse and transition which I think is also going to be a joyful experience, but my intention is that I want to save lives. I want also to help people find meaning in this experience when everything slips away and when their lives, as they have known them, no longer exist.