For The Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valley, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light.

—Gary Snyder, Zen poet

Has the Change come? Do you sense it? It isn’t one thing. It’s the whole. The whole enchilada. It’s a whole web of forces—environmental, economic, technological, social, and political. We call them good or bad. It depends on where we are, who we are, what we think. Everything is changing. The Change is accelerating.

In the past, I called the Change “the global problematique.” That translates as “the whole enchilada.” Policy talk. I am told Ivan Illich once said “thou shalt not commit social science.” I’ll follow Gary Snyder: “stay together/learn the flowers/go light.”

I’ve just spent two months on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, home to Commonweal Northwest.

Our work here includes:
Healing Circles LangleyHealing Circles Global, our newest cancer related project, Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, and the Whidbey Island New School conversations. Also, our Regenerative Design Institute is now based in Whidbey, and Power of Hope summer camp and Fall Gathering have come down from Whidbey partnerships.

For the second summer in a row, we’re breathing heavy smoke. My eyes sting. I get low-grade headaches. It’s hell for people with asthma. Or serious lung or heart disease. It’s seriously bad for pregnant mothers and babies. It’s merely seriously toxic for the rest of us. The air in Seattle has been worse than in Beijing, like smoking seven cigarettes a day.

A hospice nurse in Tacoma texted: “I’m trying to avoid black lung disease.” A Vancouver partner in our work wrote “the whole province is on fire.” A Whidbey friend whose son’s family is in Alaska said that they are getting smoke from the Siberian fires.

A southern California fire stopped a quarter mile from my brother-in-law’s house. California’s 4th climate change assessment predicts a dire future for the state.

The Change is everywhere on earth. Floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, melting icecaps, acidifying oceans, species dropping like leaves in a storm—those are the “natural” things. Uncontrolled technology, consolidation of wealth and power, desperate immigrant flows, and walls going up everywhere. The Change is accelerating.

The Change is a holocaust of life. The Change is reshaping life on earth. The Change is remaking what it is to be human.

Some changes are hopeful. Steve Pinker makes that case in Enlightenment Now. Don’t discount them: they are part of the Change. But Pinker ignores the hard parts of the Change. Nature bats last.

When the air is almost unbreathable, what are your choices? If you work outside you have no choice. If you have a choice, perhaps you don’t go out in nature. Perhaps you buy smoke masks if the pharmacy isn’t sold out. Perhaps you keep the doors and windows closed—and get an indoor air purifier. Perhaps you feel trapped in your house except for brief forays. Or perhaps you say “Forget it, I’m going out. I’ll breathe the smoke. It’s like this for millions of people. Let me be at peace with it.”

The smoke becomes a matter of kitchen table conversation. Kitchen table conversations change the way we think, act…and vote. Does that matter? I hope so.

I wrote about the Change here. I’ve thought about it and what it means for 40 years.

Here’s one good account of a dozen Change vectors.

I’ve talked seriously with hundreds of people about the Change.

  • Some deny it.
  • Some don’t want to think about it.
  • Some want to talk about it.
  • Some are angry, cynical, depressed, anxious or in despair.
  • Some are hopeful, idealistic, spiritual or have a sense of tragic realism.

I’ve learned to be more skillful. I don’t need to talk about the Change. I don’t need—as a friend’s daughter puts it—“to yuck your yums.”

I can’t prove the Change will be as bad as I expect. Others have more hope—that somehow we’ll find a way through. In a way, I agree. Why should I yuck their yums?

What’s the solution? I don’t have a solution. The Change won’t stop. Perhaps we can modulate the Change. Perhaps we can shift the arc to some degree. That’s what all the good fights are about. There are real victories. For health, for environment, for justice, for peace. They matter. A lot. But they won’t stop the Change.

I like what the Dark Mountain folks in the UK say:

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

—Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto

That seems to me like the real deal. “Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.” Inscribe that on your heart.

Here’s my hope. In hard times, people come together to help their neighbors—and even strangers—as best they can. Hard times bring out the best and worst in people. We each get to decide what the Change will bring out in us.

Maybe we’ll experience a change in consciousness, akin to enlightenment. Maybe we’ll find a way to translate that consciousness shift into ways of life that make things better. I sure hope so.

I try to follow Angeles Arrien’s four rules:

Show up.
Pay attention.
Tell the truth.
And don’t be attached to the outcome.

Dostoevsky believed that beauty will save the world. That seems to me as good a guess as any.

One thing is certain. We can each make a difference where we are.

Image: sunrise by Matthew Paulson at Creative Commons