For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
~Excerpt from “A Ritual To Be Read To Each Other,” by William Stafford~
In my 2011 book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition, I quoted a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center entitled, “Studies reveal Americans’ declining living standards and increasing anger,” which stated that “Wide layers of the population, who have seen trillions of dollars funneled from the public treasury into the coffers of Wall Street executives while their own living standards have been assaulted, their jobs slashed, their children’s schools closed, and vital social programs such as Medicare cut by billions of dollars, have no faith in the US government to secure their most basic social needs.” I then concluded:
We can safely assume that our future holds a significant degree of violence as those who have unequivocally relied on their government and the conventional values of working hard and playing by the rules to redeem them, discover the extent to which they have been deceived. Add to deception, dispossession, and you have a powder keg of rage which if turned upon oneself becomes suicidal and if turned upon others, becomes socially volatile or even homicidal.
For many, my four books highlighting and explaining the collapse of industrial civilization were deemed “too dark” to read or seriously consider as foreshadowing an unraveling of the fabric of modern civilization’s core paradigm. Yet in Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse; Navigating The Coming Chaos; A Handbook For Inner Transition; Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times; and Love In The Age Of Ecological Apocalypse: Cultivating The Relationships We Need To Thrive, I, along with a host of other voices such as John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov, Joanna Macy, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, and more, kept our fingers on the pulse of one of the greatest unravelings in human history, one symptom of which we are witnessing in this moment—the morning after the election of Donald Trump as President of The United States.
If your knee-jerk response is to argue that things would have been different or worse with Hillary in the White House, please stop. Stop and notice that with that very response, you are opting to stroll down the more pleasant and appealing path of denial of the severity of our predicament. Likewise, if you choose to lash out at the Democratic Party for not choosing Bernie, you are charting a trajectory of delusion.
Please read the writings of the authors named above and notice the extent to which a significant portion of what we have written has starkly unfolded in the past decade, particularly since the financial crash of 2008. We were prophets, and much of what we foretold was accurate, some of it, dead wrong. Yet if you read and took seriously one quarter of what we wrote, you may be disappointed, but not shocked by this moment in time.
Far less dystopian than any of us, Robert Reich articulated essentially the same reality in his post-election piece today, “Why The Working Class Abandoned The Democratic Party”:
“Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and in that time scored some important victories for working families – the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example,” says Reich, “But they’ve done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top, and undermined the working class. In some respects, Democrats have been complicit in it.”
And Reich asks, “What happens when you combine freer trade, shrinking unions, Wall Street bailouts, growing corporate market power, and the abandonment of campaign finance reform? You shift political and economic power to the wealthy, and you shaft the working class.”
On November 8, 2016, the white working class of America moved the tectonic plates of the culture by giving a resounding victory to Donald Trump.
What is the significance of this besides the fact that the working class is enraged?
Historically, the significance is that when a society is unraveling from the inside out, it almost always takes a drastic political right turn in favor of division, scapegoating, demonizing the poor, racism, ethnic cleansing, the oppression of women, financial austerity, and utter disregard for the environment. It is now clear that the half-measures of a ruling elite which would not take seriously the rage of the working class have failed miserably and have been permanently deposited in the dumpster of American politics.
Are we shocked? Really?
Rather than running from the room screaming with our hair on fire, let’s use this incredibly teachable moment to learn some of the painful realities and profound existential lessons that this Presidential election is attempting to teach us.
- Industrial civilization and the paradigm at its core—a paradigm of disconnection from ourselves, from each other, and from Earth—is being shredded before our eyes, and there is no “fixing” it. It’s done, and perhaps we’re done as a species. Get over it, and get on with it.
- We get on with it by dumping our denial and delusion and looking squarely in the face of the sobering data not only regarding the state of our culture, but the life-support status of our dying planet. In a recent story from Cosmos Magazine, we learn that “Sea urchins flip inside out to become an adult.” The story continues by noting that, “The tiny babies spend their early life searching the vast depths of the ocean for a suitable home. But once they find one, they undergo an incredible transformation.” It is now time to “flip our consciousness” inside out and become the adults that our catastrophic predicament is demanding us to be. We are going to be tested mightily—perhaps beyond anything we can now imagine within the next four years and perhaps longer.
- How do we grow up to respond to the crisis? After facing the full extent of it, we allow ourselves to grieve. We sob, we cry, we rage, we wail and scream and allow animal noises to erupt from our bodies now wracked with remorse and regret. Yes, we have colluded in creating this crisis, but it’s not enough to beat ourselves up. We must recognize that without grieving, it doesn’t matter one whit what we do or don’t do in response to the crisis because grief is love, and if we don’t allow our hearts to be shattered with grief, we will never touch the depths of love that are required for us to navigate the consequences of humankind’s deranged choices. Choosing separation instead of love is what got us where we are, and above all else, our predicament is demanding radical heartbreak and astringent love and relentless reconnection with self, others, and Earth.
- Commit to understanding and doing shadow work. For nearly four hundred years, the United States has not dealt with the shadow of slavery. It has not dealt with the shadow of Native American genocide, now revisiting us at Standing Rock. Nor has it dealt with being the first nation to use nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nor has it recognized its repugnant imperialism and its obsessive proselytizing of the globe with corporate capitalism. Donald Trump is a shadow magnet, and like a poultice applied to an infected wound, he has drawn out the toxicity of our culture for all to behold. Many resources abound for doing shadow work. One resource is my book Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis. Most importantly when working with the shadow, we must remember that not looking at it (ie, “Your books are too dark; I just can’t read them”) the shadow will not diminish but only grow larger until it has our undivided attention. Thus the title of this article: “Now can we talk about the end of business as usual?”
- The culture will become increasingly divided. Terrified, hurting people will continue to “other” their fellow humans and the ecosystems. Anger will deepen. Violence will become epidemic. If we are not doing grief work and shadow work, we will become enveloped in vengeance and retaliation, so well modeled for us by our new President. In order to become whole, as opposed to further divided, we must, and I mean must, create safe circles of connection and community with each other. Anyone who attempts to navigate the crisis on his/her own or just with “me and mine,” will not and cannot.
- At the same time that we face the crisis squarely, engage in grief work, shadow work, and creating safe circles of community and support, we must regularly bathe in joy and beauty. In order to do so, we must recognize the difference between circumstantial happiness and the permanent core of joy which lives within us. It may seem strange that humans need guidance in how to experience joy, but in a lifeless, flatline culture, we do. For this reason, Andrew Harvey and I wrote our newly-released book Return To Joy—a toolkit for creating and sharing joy as the ultimate essence of our existence.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells us that we were made for these times. I could not agree more, and I frequently remind us that none of us simply fell out of the sky at the time of our birth onto this planet. There is some sanity, some intention in our being here on this particular “mourning in America.”
In an interview last year with Stephen Jenkinson, he shared the etymology of the word catastrophe. The first syllable, cata, implies going downward. The second syllable strophe, implies going inward. Our current global and existential crisis is tenaciously pulling us downward and into the inner world of meaning, purpose, grief, love, and joy. We have the choice to resist going there because “it’s too dark,” or we can notice that the darkness is now all around us, and it is very, very deep, and it is calling us to “flip inside out,” in order to experience “incredible transformation.”