Burying your head in the sand
The first step has to be that we try to see reality from a base level. We try to be at the ground zero of how things actually are. This is hard at the best of times. And there are many millions of meditators trying to do just that, day in, day out: access the true nature of reality. But the good thing about the shrinking of Great Nature, the diminishment of life on Earth, is that we don’t have to get metaphysical. We can, quite easily, see.
The next step is to link this to your heart and, somehow, yank out all the secrets that lie there. All the self-deceptions. The ignoring of things inside of you that are too painful, too inconvenient, too scary to shine a light on and look at. I didn’t even know I had some of these; that’s how much I underestimated the depths of the soul. But acting on injustice — in the human and non human worlds — means being just and honest with yourself, too. This is a long process and fraught with steps backwards. But it is easier to *do something* when you are sure of your particular type of morality at the soul’s ground zero. It seems you get motivation to be honest with yourself when you are a teenager until your early twenties. And then a great freezing happens. When you wake up and thaw out of this is anyone’s guess. But if these lines have an effect on you, you probably are already thawing out.
We cannot bury our head in the sand. The metaphor is apt — actually doing that is surely painful, and can only be temporary. So, perhaps I should rephrase: everyone can bury their head in the sand, but few can sustain it. There is actually a deep feeling of relief when we stop pretending. There is also a feeling of grief at what we have lost — many days, months or years of wasted energy and wasted opportunities to develop as a person, community, the single organism we call Earth. We should bury our head in ourselves and see what we find — are we willing to defend life on Earth? Are we willing to see the reality in front of us?
Burying your head in own heart means letting your heart, guts, your legs and hands do the thinking for you. This, for me, is the hardest thing of all. But I believe that our minds cannot only reside in our heads. Relinquishing control over to something that you have to feel comfortable labelling — soul, subconscious, god, feelings, gut instinct, intuition. If you can do that you are truly unfurling — and things tend to make sense, happen, and you feel more motivated to *do something*.
Our minds don’t reside solely in our heads. In fact, our mind is connected to a collective mind. I’m not talking about predetermination or God with a capital G. We are connected to the physical world around us. The more we interact, the more sensing we can do into that world. We are heavily influenced by the world around us. The advertising-rich, city-oriented, predominantly-concrete urban world makes us feel very weird. Weird in the sense of the following experiment that, hopefully, some of us have tested (some, sadly, cannot): spend as much time as possible in a natural setting. You care less about the bullshit, and anxiety drops. This quietening allows you to tune into the subtlety of your self. This type of feeling, often fleeting for an urbanite, is what I would call feeling not-weird. That not-weirdness isn’t the end of the journey though. Because you will probably find your self drenched in accumulated crap, generations old, recently spiced up by weeks of staring at a screen. Other people have made this point and I’ve come across it recently — and it’s powerful: anxiety and depression are not just our individual ‘fault’. Many people in the West have immense personal wealth in comparison to previous generations. But we also have the collective accumulated trauma of the past centuries in us, undealt with. We have our own bashed up brain, too, shat in by advertising and the perfect body. We have our horrible all-consuming itch to consume. And itch that, at root, is an itch for peace and for happiness and for love.
This notion of psychology suggests that we need to look deep inside ourselves — but also deep outside ourselves. My own journey to deal with anxiety and depression took me inside, but I didn’t apportion appropriate agency to our hyper capitalist consumer nature-destroying advertising culture. If we imagine the sheer amount of energy of the people, computer monitors, offices, factories, adverts, billboards, smartphone notifications that are geared towards getting us to behave in a way that *profits someone else* and *not our selves* then we get somewhere to realising that ‘huh… it isn’t just me’.
And if we imagine, similarly, a second’s snapshot of the traffic at any point on a busy intersection in our nearest city. And then times that by several thousand. And then times that by several hundred thousand. And think that that is the rough number of exhausts that are whirring in every city around the world in that one second. Then we feel a sense of grief. This sense of grief can — and is, as people are also talking about this too, which is great — be apportioned to the destruction of Great Nature. We are all culpable. And we can individually change our habits. But a wider and much more empowering way of thinking about it is that it is systemic. That system is designed, and we are delayed in dealing with climate change *by design* — immense lobbying by fossil fuel companies; a political system that requires funding from rich people and companies that by definition profit from the current system (profit at the expense of your time on Earth, directly, if you work for them or give them the money that you have earned doing something else). Thinking systemically is empowering because we *are* empowered — currently, in many western countries — to change our system via democracy, protest and persuasion.
The harder part will be to change culture. But I believe that, actually, we can heal our culture. The end goal is to all truly live, flourish, be ourselves and harness our own individual unique skills and talents for our own benefit and for the benefit of those around us. It’s also to have immense amounts of fun, and to explore all corners of what it’s possible to experience. To do this will be a break from modernism. We have to look to the future but with a connection to the past. And we have to stop thinking the past was worse than the present. We also cannot romanticise the past, either. But to remake our culture — as consumer capitalism feels increasingly cultureless — we have to link ourselves to the past, to our ancestors (wherever they might have come from). To end the rush, consumption, stress, destruction that is required by progress we have to stop obsessing over progress. To do this, we have to link ourselves to the eternal. That is, to the past. And see ourselves as a continuation of life itself — life not meaning ‘having children’ but life meaning, simply, the fact that you exist and live.
If we do that, then we will not tolerate the wholesale destruction of life — including non-human life.
If we link ourselves to our ancestors, we can also, maybe, realise that they are in the soil, all around us. They are in our food. Quite literally. They are in the deer we look at in the park. The roots of some trees might still hold on to their bones. We walk outside and see ourselves. And we give up on the dream of living forever because we see the beauty of every one of our ancestors’ lives. We don’t diminish their brief life by wanting to prolong ours. This dream of individual eternal life might be behind, ironically, all the destruction. The dream of non-individual life — collective life — is the root dream of what has to happen now.
I spent some weeks travelling through California this autumn. The sense — from everyone we talked to about the wilderness, parks and local forests — that California was on a precipice was clear, and often explicit. The heat we felt way into the redwoods felt eery. The dead tops of many of these trees — skeletal, poking above otherwise healthy-looking tree line — worrying. Redwoods (and perhaps other trees too) cannot push the requisite water and nutrients above a certain height. Which means the crowns of these trees rely on California’s famous fogs to water them. Except, those fogs are no longer famous — they are erstwhile. Not forgotten, but certainly not around as much. Driving across the state, across the central valley between the coast and the Sierra mountains, felt dry. What was once green is now yellow and certainly not paradisiacal. Industrial farming isn’t. The extent of the fires, even before the most recent, most deadly and devastating ones, was shocking. I was in California two years before this trip (2016). And I could see the difference. It was as if all that I had read about climate change and habitat change had jumped out of the page and onto the land. So many mountainsides with those scarred and twisted trees, so many comments about fire and smoke. The oldest person we talked to about this also told us how everything had changed in Alaska, where he once lived. Americans who rely on the land for their direct livelihood have been seeing drastic changes for decades.
What fills me with awe, joy and sadness are the moments when you experience the grace of the non-human world. When you can connect to it. Through seeing beauty, being afraid, being cold, or hearing — for instance, coyotes in the night; something I didn’t hear until this autumn in California. When you collide those moments with the great loss you feel on the land, you feel something stirring. I can’t bury my head in the sand.