By Birju Pandya
The recent group discussion around the ‘Underestimating the Challenges of a Ghastly Future’ (UCGF) paper felt quite lively and meaningful to me, grateful for the opportunity to attend! As I took in the discussion, I had a few reflections come up, which I offer below in the spirit of furthering the dialogue.
The first time I came across the idea of ecological overshoot was about a decade ago, in 2012. I was working in the field of impact investing and came across a person who, in almost hushed tones, mentioned to me that the climate scientists we were hearing from (who were already concerning), were just the ones being platformed. There were others, whose research and ideas weren’t being trumpeted, whose findings were more dire. He also shared with me leaders of other ways of connecting to ecological wisdom – for instance, he asked me if I had heard of the Archdruid, John Michael Greer. This sent me down a rabbit hole.
Since then, I’ve been diving deeper into an inquiry of breakdown. It has included elements of my own, as I saw the fragility of my own psyche in the face of such large questions. In recent years, I have found community around this inquiry, and have seen much larger numbers of people become ‘collapse aware’ at some level. I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the pioneers of an inquiry that’s born of allowing in some of these uncomfortable findings.
As part of this, I’ve been actively involved with the work of Jem Bendell, Scholar’s Warning, and Deep Adaptation Forum. These are oases that seem to be grappling with similar questions – how to invite the scientific community to more directly speak their truth. With Covid-19, the mainstream view was to present the science with a cautious tone meant to maximizing the saving of lives, not necessarily to keep up lifestyles. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with ecocide, for a variety of reasons.
The early research on the topic of climate grief seems to be that talking about these issues, in broad and narrow forums, supports individual and community wellness, despite the intensity of the topic. There are even those who say that it is the difficulty to name these possibilities, and experience the grief that accompanies them, that forms the basis for their manifestation. Of course, human development exists on a spectrum, and not all may benefit from engagement, but I have seen how this same topic framed in multiple skillful ways can reach across values divides.
In recent times, I have been exploring how cosmology plays a role in how we metabolize breakdown. In the eastern traditions, cyclicality is fundamental – just as there is a spring, or a Satya Yuga, or a True Dharma Age, there is a fall, or a Kali Yuga, or a Dharma Ending Age. But of course the soil does not go anywhere. Regardless of the times, there is something that transcends. In Mahayana traditions, they speak of the importance of a Bodhisattva approach to life – a path of unconditional service with no aim to optimize outcome. Perhaps that concept is prescient for these times.
What the UGCF paper brings up in me is an inquiry of ‘how to be,’ as much or more than ‘what to do.’ In our community, we know of many who are engaging with deep collective leverage points, from systems of economics to systems of governance – whether in those domains or the more mundane, the inquiry remains relevant to me. As for me, I’m currently taking these questions into the embodiment domain – feeling tones, shadow work, grief work, and creating the space for others to head in a direction where the logical mind alone may not explore. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on what came up for me in this broader discussion, hope to listen and learn from others as well.