Lean in…

“So, what if instead of continuing to avoid this hurt and grief and despair, or only blaming them—the corporations, politicians, agrobusinesses, loggers, or corrupt bureaucrats—for it, we could try to lean into, and accept such feelings. We could acknowledge them for what they are rather than dismissing them as wrong, as a personal weakness or somebody else’s fault.”

Per Espen Stoknes

in:  In Order to Respond Adequately, First We May Need to Mourn

from:  Over Grow the System

In continuing efforts to “respond adequately” to any of the insanity going on in our world today, it seems this advice is profound, and in keeping with the Buddhist approach which I try to maintain.

Rather than descend into denial and escapism or the trap of blaming “them”, we must do our best to lean in – as Leah Song of Rising Appalachia sings – facing the truth of what is happening, the truth of our own pain and grief over it, and then… and then… rise up in new clarity and resolve and begin to work through the changes that we can see are needed for things to be better.

Changes in our own lives, in our own approach to the world, in how we communicate about it all. In what we believe is possible for us to do. Respond adequately.

The blaming trap, casting all this horrifying, depressing tragedy as an “Us v. Them” thing is really just a way of avoiding the hard truths of it, and worse, makes the situation worse by hardening the positions of those we castigate, label, vilify and hate. Not that there’s not ample evidence that much of the problem stems from actions that are clearly deliberate efforts to accrue personal benefit to some in callous disregard of the likely – dare we say unavoidable? – consequences.

But there’s where the Buddhist perspective comes in. The dharma teachings are full of the notion that everyone – the most vile, depraved, evil among us – has Buddha-nature and that everyone’s actions in this world are the result of causes and conditions that we may not be able to discern, but nevertheless are deeply buried in the motivations and responses of everyone. Understanding that there are things in ‘those people’s’ lives – think of how they may have been abused and neglected in childhood as a simple example – that are responsible for the actions that we see as greedy selfishness or mean-ness or evil can help one to respond to those people with compassion rather than anger and hatred.

Not that these things in any way excuse or justify actions that are harmful to others, but simply that seeing that as an underlying truth can help one respond with love and compassion.

And that kind of response is the only thing that has even the remotest possibility of touching the hardened hearts of those who are destroying our world.

Authentic living: Does it matter?

If there were a madman standing somewhere – perhaps on some hidden island in the middle of some unknown ocean (thinking of Dr. No…) – with his finger on the Destruct button, sending live video out to all the world saying that everyone must accede to a set of demands else he will push the button, what would we do? What would be authentic life in that moment?

What if this fictional madman had a series of buttons, each labeled with one of the world’s major cities, and began pressing them one at a time, with subsequent video of the total destruction of each city following upon his press of each button, laying out for the world a timetable of sure destruction and a list of demands including such things as ‘no more plastic’, or ‘eschewing all non-renewable energy,’ or ‘destroying all weapons of war’ … you get the idea.

What would be the reasonable and prudent course of action in such a scenario?

The world we live in is in fact in just such a predicament, though the madman is not a Dr. No on some remote island, the madman is us.

The timetable is yet to be agreed on, and the means of our destruction is still a bit up in the air, but make no mistake, unless we make some drastic changes at some very deep levels, it will come.

“Sustainability” is a cruel hoax.

Even if we make all the changes currently on the table and considered “reasonable” by those in high positions, we will not be able to sustain anything close to how we are now living for more than a few decades… perhaps, if some technological breakthrough materializes, we might sustain our way of life for a century. Which would allow my grandchildren to have children, yes – but how long would those children survive?

What is usually presented as sustainability is more like “stretch-ability”.

A description of the kind of life that is truly sustainable indefinitely on this earth would be so radically different from our present lifestyle as to be unacceptable to most, perhaps even unrecognizable. Somewhere between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, we left a truly sustainable paradigm behind. By the time agriculture made “civilization” possible, we were firmly set on the course to the economic polarization, authoritarian regimes, and environmental consumption of today’s world.

So yes, we face sure destruction, yet we temporize and hem and haw and argue about the prudent course, and we stroll about on the deck smoking Cuban cigars and enjoying the evening breeze even as the iceberg looms.

So yes, I am asking, what constitutes an authentic life when faced with the mass destruction, maybe even the extinction, of our progeny, perhaps even of life on earth.

Perhaps I am too audacious. Perhaps I am arrogant as well, to think I have anything to say about authentic living. But I persist.

I offer these words in a spirit of humility and gratitude, realizing that I could be very off the mark with all or any of it, and acknowledging my great debt to the thousands of teachers, writers, thinkers, friends, enemies, and lovers who have helped me along the path to this point.

I also offer these words out of serious, ongoing love and concern for the well-being of the people and all the life-forms on this imperiled planet.

This concern is the real motivation for writing, for sharing, for perhaps at times sounding insistent. The situation is dire everywhere you look. Things are ‘going to hell in an egg basket’ as the old folks I grew up with said. The economic, social and environmental crises threaten to collapse the world our children and grandchildren depend on for their very lives. Is this not sufficient motivation for speaking out, for risking a strident tone?

Indeed, I believe we all need to begin to speak up on behalf of life on the earth, to speak up and to step out of our comfort zones, to change our ways of thinking and living, and to demand – as non-stridently as possible perhaps – that others take note of the impending disasters we face and to behave appropriately.

The changes we can make in our own lifestyles, while significant in many ways, are not enough. Even if all the “environmentally conscious” people of the world made all the changes they could “reasonably” be expected to make in their lifestyles – indeed, even if we, this tiny minority, really radically simplified our lives and reduced our consumption and all those things, it would not be enough to avert the environmental crises. Even if all of the progressives really got active in the political and social systems and took to the streets with the Occupy movements (Which I love!) around the world, it wouldn’t be enough.

There are just not enough of us.

So the strategy must be broader and stronger and more radical if we hope to make a difference in how things proceed.

The most important thing for us to do is to help others – our families, our friends and neighbors, our enemies in the culture wars, the great unwashed, the roiling masses, everyone! – come to see the true nature of the situation. This won’t be easy, because everything else is stacked against that seeing. Intense creativity will be required if we are to reach enough people.

So how do we help others to see this critical truth? Yes, speaking out and being strong examples is important. But again, it’s not enough. People generally change deeply set beliefs and ways of life only after powerful emotional experiences, not from being convinced by rational arguments, persuasive Power Points notwithstanding. It’s difficult to construct powerful emotional experiences for others, but the closest we can come to it is through the power of Story.

We must all begin to dig deep within ourselves to find the most powerful stories we can create, stories that will communicate at a real, undeniable emotional level the truths that we are coming to know. Truths that will help others to access the new understandings that power our lives, the new visions that give us hope, the new freedom from conventional living and thinking that offer the possibility for a new world, a beautiful world where humans recover the true ways of life that once were as natural as breathing.

The first step in the process is to see where we went wrong: separation.