Many people live contentedly with mysticism for decades, and if you have the condition, it is not recommended that you do anything differently going forward. People can live with mysticism, but only by surrendering to it daily. Resistance to your mystical impulses is contraindicated.
Changing times are calling for more radical approaches to social work. COVID-19 is teaching us that resilient social networks are local. After the pandemic broke out in my community, opportunities for resource sharing and communication opened up. Mutual aid support networks emerged, where neighbors post what they need help with, and what they have to offer. I am seeing brilliance, generosity, and creativity. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) backyard garden projects. Mask making and distribution. Bed and breakfasts converted into shelters. Meals for the unhoused. Most of these organizers are not “social workers,” but perhaps this is an indication of the direction social work should be going.
What would happen if we did not try to push our deep concerns about the war and the economy and the environment away from us? What if we didn’t cling to thoughts and feelings that distract us from the world situation? What if, instead, we trusted those feelings and examined them without opinions of good or bad—with a not-knowing mind—and tried to see what they were telling us? What if we simply tried to understand our life-functions in relation to these feelings?
Defying evil cannot be rationally defended. It makes a leap into the moral, which is beyond rational thought. It refuses to place a monetary value on human life or the natural world. It refuses to see anyone as superfluous. It acknowledges human life, indeed all life, as sacred. And this is why, as Arendt points out, the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t do this.”
There is another reason for fending off sorrow about the loss of the wild natural places we love to visit and the communities where we live, and this is perhaps the hardest one of all to accept and overcome. Many of us are simply afraid that if we allow ourselves to wade, even for a moment, into the feelings of sadness for the living world that lap at the edge of our consciousness, we will find ourselves pulled so ruthlessly into grief and despair that we will never emerge.
There we all share the communal cup of loss and in that place find our deep kinship with one another. That is the alchemy of grief, the great and abiding ecology of the sacred once again showing us what the indigenous soul has always known; we are of the earth.
In 2016, Andrew Harvey and I published Savage Grace: Living Resiliently In The Dark Night of The Globe. In Chapter 1 of the book, we forecasted essentially what is happening in this moment in terms of the demise of the last vestiges of democracy and human rights on this planet. We chose the image of Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction as the symbol of our current global predicament. Two years later, we are witnessing a virulent, worldwide embrace of white nationalist, authoritarian rule. Ultimately, Kali seeks to transform the human ego and rational mind and bring us into a more permanent residence in the heart, but the process is often excruciating. Might she also want to transform the image a country or a community has of itself? “This is not who we are.”—Or is it? How shall awake human beings respond? What is our work? What is our calling? How do we reconnect with the authentic sources of meaning in our lives and the web of life itself as totalitarian rule is poised to dominate our consciousness and our countries as we stand on the threshold of the potential extinction of all life on Earth as a result of catastrophic climate change? We will be posting portions of Savage Grace in the coming weeks because it is proving itself to be prescient and empowering in this very dark time.
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. ~Aeschylus~
After the coup, everything seems crazy, the news is overwhelming, and some try to cope by withdrawing or pretending that things are normal. Others are overwhelmed and distraught. I’m afflicted by a kind of hypervigilance of the news, a daily obsession to watch what’s going on that is partly a quest for sense in what seems so senseless. At least I’ve been able to find the patterns and understand who the key players are, but to see the logic behind the chaos brings you face to face with how deep the trouble is.
We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both. I don’t know if there’s a point at which it will be too late, though every week more regulations, administrators, and norms crash and burn—but we are long past the point at which it is too soon.