I don’t know about you, but I am maxed out with suggestions on how to cope with lockdown and COVID-19. Yesterday, it was how to check in with my emotional and spiritual wellbeing with a Kabbalistic formulae. The day before I was offered a COVID update via a channel medium. The day before that, it was to how to ease my quarantine aches and pains, and how my brain has already made this lockdown normal. I’ve also been advised to breathe, how to eat, how to exercise, how to confront my fear of just about everything and what to do when I panic. And, resilience has become the COVID-19 word of the moment.
According to Governmental, main-stream media and even some religious party-lines, we are ‘at war’ not just with Covid-19, but with death itself. Of course, it is essential to take responsibility for ourselves while the pandemic burns itself out, to pay homage to those working on the ‘front-line’ and to grieve those who have died. But it seems to me that this rhetoric is feeding on our fear of death as a way of controlling us – as it has done for centuries.
This is a profoundly moving podcast about what we may all be facing due to climate change. I was one of the four women who took part in the interviews.
Recently I was a participant in Professor Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation retreat at the Haybergill Centre, Yorkshire. I was a little apprehensive before embarking on the six-hour drive from Wiltshire because I had read Jem’s deep adaptation paper, which doesn’t pull any punches predicting social unrest and financial collapse as climate crisis continues to unfold.
Yet I was deeply heartened by the experience. Not because everything is ‘going to okay’ – it isn’t in the context of climate crisis – but because of the amazing international group of people who had gathered for the retreat, each one of us committed to facing the truth about the future of our planet. Within moments of meeting, we had bonded at a profound level – all of us signed up, of course, to share our fears and anxieties of what we may be faced with, but more importantly, to collectively share our creativity and inspiration on how to find positive and productive ways to work with this uncertainty. I experienced our group as a living expression of the whole being far great than the sum of its parts.
This whole-togetherness is being expressed right this moment in the streets of capital cities across the globe through Extinction Rebellion. Yesterday in London, for an example, someone dressed as broccoli spear was arrested alongside a rabbi who had led his congregation into Trafalgar Square to join thousands of protestors from all walks of life. The day before, an eighty-two- year-old woman was arrested alongside the young and the middle aged, parents and grandparents. But more impressive is how protestors have peacefully materialised (against much police opposition) a mini street city with food stations, washing stations, camp sites, lost property stations and media stations to support each other, inform each other and galvanise each other to show their children and the rest of the UK how life can be lived and shared in a different way. London is buzzing with people co-operation. It’s as if the Earth put out a poster as Lord Kitchener did to recruit World War I soldiers, saying ‘Your Planet Needs YOU’
I understand that some people accuse climate crisis activists of fear-mongering and terrifying children. Yes, it is terrifying to think what may happen if we don’t turn things around. But I see all climate activists as collectively using the fury of fear to wake humanity up globally to do something about saving the planet for future generations, not to mention animal species. This not an expression of unhealthy fury, which is about controlling, terrorising, manipulating and humiliating others. This is an expression of healthy fury which enables us to stand up for ourselves, fight our corner, set boundaries and create change for the better.
It’s about time we broke out of our repressed colonial conditioning to find far better ways to support each other as our tenuous future unfolds. We are all in this together. So, let’s stop fighting, bickering, criticising and blaming each other. Let’s start working together instead and learning from others who traditionally embrace a deeply respectful way of life. For a start, wouldn’t it be great if we all began to think in terms of how the Native American Indian Iroquois make decisions. Any decision they make takes the next sevengenerations into consideration. Now, that would be world changing.
As I point out in my book, Living fully, Dying Consciously, we need to move away from our ego-driven lives and look at things from a higher perspective. I believe we only start to do this when we begin to accept our mortality. When we know our life is finite, it makes us truly value what we have, and to do the best we possibly can while we still have breath left in our body.
I recognise that facing death is a completely different matter to facing extinction. This takes the concept of mortality to entirely new level. But when we connect with the bigger picture of who we are, we see ourselves for what we truly are – a blink in the eye of the Universe. Look what happened when the dinosaurs and most of life on earth were wiped out. It took a while, but the planet replenished, life recalibrated and human beings thrived. In whatever way the planet transmutes through this present crisis, life will continue. It may not be in the form of life we experience at the moment, and certainly not in the vast numbers we have currently reached, which is no bad thing. But, it’s impossible to destroy consciousness. If you really want a reality check about our self-importance, spend a moment reflecting on the extraordinary and beautiful photograph taken by Voyager 1 as it passed out of our solar system on February 14th, 1990, 3.7 billion miles from earth. Our planet is a minute pale blue speck of dust almost invisible in the vast expanse of space.
Find your tribe
My counsel to anyone struggling to make sense of the changes that are knocking at the door is to form or join a group of people who you regularly meet with; people who are willing to be honest and open about what’s going on in the world, yet are not prepared to indulge in doomsaying (this really doesn’t help) or have the unrealistic expectation that everything will suddenly be fine. It’s about accepting the reality of what’s going on and agreeing to focus on what is inspiring for you all.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone write about how much we now need to form groups in their book, Active Hope: how to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Belonging to a group provides a foundation for courage and resilience to come to the fore so we can adapt as circumstance change, see setbacks for what they are, and find strength when times look bleak. They say, ‘When conditions are difficult having a trusted gang around us both to draw from and give to can make all the difference.’ I have experienced the same resilience and generosity of spirit when running the Death Cafes. We need to come together to connect and care for each other when we engage with unnerving and frightening situations.
Most of all, more than at any other period in human history, we need to collectively pay homage to our beautiful Mother Nature and treasure the gifts she presents to us, knowing she is part of us as we are part of her. Mother Nature lives in our bones, and what we do to her, to do to ourselves.
Well, here we are at the start of 2012. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate in wishing everyone a Happy New Year. But somehow I can’t bring myself to use the word ‘happy’. Not when we are confronted by such global uncertainty.
Yet on a twelve miles walk yesterday across magnificent Cotswold countryside it was easy to forget the seriousness of what humanity is facing. Thank goodness for that. I think the human spirit can take so much gloom and despondency before it innately begins to seek out something to soothe and calm the soul.
The walk certainly did that for me. It always makes me marvel to know – and trust – that the untidy mess of mouldy undergrowth and all those tight brown buds on skeletal branches will turn within not-so-many weeks into verdant hedgerows and flourishing trees.
For me, this cycle of life and death is truly miraculous and hope-filled. So hope-filled that when I returned home, I updated my living will (also known as Advanced Decision). This clearly states that I do not wish to receive life prolonging treatments or to be resuscitated if and when my quality of life deteriorates beyond what is acceptable to me. This includes dementia related illnesses. It was witnessed by a close friend, with a willing and enthusiastic flourish of her pen. That is what I call a New Year present.
Setting aside the current cross-party political debate about who is going to pay for end-of-life care for increasing numbers of elderly people, I believe that taking personal responsibility for how I want to end my life is the most significant decision I can make for my family, and, indeed, for society as a whole.
Dying back in the natural world is about clearing away the ‘old’ to make room for the new. It is also about dead vegetation creating rich compost for fresh life to thrive.
Unfortunately it appears that humanity is hell-bent on trying to cheat this fundamental law of nature. But it won’t work. Nature is already fighting back, in ways that we can’t – or don’t want to – imagine.
So my 2012 New Year wish is for us all to stop chasing the illusive state of happiness. Rather, I wish for us to learn to embrace and accept our mortality. By doing so, maybe we can experience what it feels like to truly give back to each other.