Once I understood and accepted that the disintegration of our civilization is already underway, I spent a number of years trying to get people to change their beliefs and their behaviour. I felt that if they made the changes I was proposing they could make a “good” outcome more likely. I was disappointed when my exhortations and hectoring fell on mostly deaf ears – whenever I wasn’t just preaching to the choir, that is. It was Cassandra’s dilemma too.
The more I tried to promote change, however, the more I suffered. But the suffering didn’t spring simply from the pain of disappointment. It went much deeper than that, and eventually precipitated my Dark Night of the Soul. The Buddha was right when he taught that all suffering springs from attachment. In my case the attachment was to a particular outcome – my vision of a sustainable, just, ecologically conscious society that made room for all living things on the planet, not just our relatives and friends. When that outcome was thwarted through public indifference and even hostility, I suffered mightily.
Fortunately, I went through a transformation about three years ago. The shift was complete enough that it enabled me to detach from outcomes while still remaining committed to the awareness of what’s going on. At the same time I adopted the position that this reality is co-created by all its participants, and that at some level the nature of reality and our individual roles in it have been consciously chosen by us all. At that point, I realized that I had been working at cross purposes to the reality that was unfolding. The ongoing transformation, even if it becomes a collapse of civilization, is not meant to be stopped. Rather, it is the vessel within which our conscious awareness is being nurtured, developed and annealed. This leads to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that the collapse is not to be lamented or prevented, but rather to be celebrated and engaged. It will come as no surprise to those on similar journeys that when I surrendered to this understanding, my suffering ceased.
From that perspective, I decided that the most useful thing I can do – something that is aligned with the point of the exercise rather than in opposition to it – is simply to contribute my little bits of awareness to the field. I try to do it without expectation or attachment, without trying to elicit a particular response or outcome. Just put the awareness out there. Those who aren’t ready for it yet will ignore or reject it, those who don’t yet see it but are ready may awaken a bit more, those who are already aware may find some fresh nuance to play with. Whatever role my observations and discussions play in the unfoldment is the part they are meant to play. This is what I call “vocal witnessing”.
I still care very deeply about what’s happening, but I now remain relatively unattached to how it might unfold in the future. As a result I avoid talking about solutions as much as possible, largely because I don’t think there are any – at least at the level most people think of “solutions” (like new policies or new technologies) The point of all this apparently catastrophic unfoldment is not for us to “solve the problem”, but for for us to wake up.
I agree completely with the writer Charles Eisenstein (“The Ascent of Humanity”) and other observers – we do not have a soluble problem, we have an insoluble predicament. Because of that, our most useful response will be at right angles to the problem space. That means that the door out of this mess isn’t going to be opened by a new version of our old ways (new legislation, clean energy and more recycling) although that will play a role. The real doorway out will be found by shifting into a completely new way of being – the revolution of consciousness that so many of us know in our bones is just around the corner.
These days I’m putting all my chips on abetting that r/evolution of human consciousness, by acting as a vocal witness to the unfolding collapse.
Within the community of the environmentally and ecologically aware, this is an uncommon position, although perhaps less so among those who have chosen a spiritual response to their apprehension of collapse. Within the mainstream of activist thought it is still viewed as fatalism and defeatism.
How does thinking about this perspective make you feel? Do you think it is a useful point of view or not? Is it helpful or dangerous? Is it an approach you have taken, or could see yourself taking? Or does it feel like sophistry – simply a tricky justification for fiddling while Rome burns?