21 Questions for 2020: #4

4. Is there any silver lining to the dismal political and planetary events of our time? 

A dilemma I wrestle with daily is how to stay politically engaged and attuned to the troubles of our time, while not being so dragged down by all the negativity that I become paralyzed by fear and despair. 

I believe that each of us contributes to the general mental, emotional climate of our society, and ultimately our planet. 

If, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggested, there is a planetary “noosphere” or collectively created “sphere of the mind,” it is now being augmented by our incredible World Wide Web, which spreads the news of the day wider and faster than ever before. And it is sadly true that “if it bleeds it leads”: bad news always seems to be amplified, while good news lost in the furor of the day’s disasters. 

Thus, in our age of “hive mind,” the planetary climate is being flooded with negativity. Each bad news headline assaults our psyches, snowballing and compounding the negative drag on our collective spirits, ultimately affecting the health and vitality of the planet overall.

We can get lost in this waking nightmare of negativity.

Given this scenario, my question is: How can we engage with the day’s disasters without being dragged down by them? If we don’t want to tune out entirely, escaping to la-la land (a choice only available to the most privileged), what is the best approach? 

One thing I know is that we humans are herd animals—intensely social—and each of us acts as a beacon for others. If you see me despairing and fearful, your own light is likely to dim as well. So the importance of keeping our spirits up goes beyond the well-being of the individual. 

One way we can do this is by acting with positive intention in everything we do. Putting our values and ideals into practice as best we can, in our own little lives, has larger ripple effects than we can know. 

I am also trying to understand our current political and planetary challenges as necessary transformations that will lead to better days.

On the political level, our old systems have become too rigid and need a serious re-invention. In the past, such political overhauls have only come about through violence, as happened when the French and American Revolutions successfully threw off the tyranny of the monarchy. 

Theoretically, humans are capable of transforming our social systems through mutual accord and agreement. That is a slower process, more akin to the natural rhythms of biological change. 

But in 2020, we are in a period of great acceleration. Climate disruption is happening faster and faster as the biofeedback loops are set into motion: witness the Australian fires and the rapid melting of the polar ice caps. Political disruption is also happening in sudden leaps and bounds: Trump losing the public vote but gaining the Oval Office anyway; Britain, in one vote, set on a course to leave the European Union. 

In each case, what happens in one part of the planet reverberates all over the world, through our individual and collective responses, and picks up steam.

When we respond with fear and anger, the collective fog of fear and anger builds, creating storms of negativity in our social climate that may indeed lead to violence and the sudden collapse of our current social systems.

The dark vision of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” seems aptly matched to our time, though it was published 100 years ago in 1920.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But I disagree with the “blank and pitiless” vision of the second half of the poem. 

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

In contrast to Yeats’ nightmarish vision, I propose that the “Spiritus Mundi” coming towards us now is not a “rough, slouching beast,” but a radiant new incarnation, a Second Coming bringing light and freedom to a world that has become dark and stagnant, and is desperately in need of transformative change.

We can look to Nature for inspiration here. When a natural system collapses—say, a million acres of forest go up in smoke—Nature doesn’t sit around bemoaning her fate. She simply gets busy and starts creating again, anew, from the ground up—a cooperative activity involving every living particle she can muster. 

The opening provided by the absence of trees is an opportunity for new, different life forms to develop: instead of trees, grasses can grow. Flowers and shrubs will follow.

We may not be able to head off the violence and turmoil that are coming at us with the speed and force of a psychic tsunami these days. But we can change how we view it. 

We can see the silver lining in this time of “things falling apart,” knowing that out of the ashes of the old, new life is always born. We can focus on the opportunities and blessings that will come with the transformation of old, outdated systems. 

By keeping our spirits high enough to counter the prevailing drag of the deluge of bad news, we can imagine ourselves as free, light-hearted creatures, full of positive potential, dancing toward Bethlehem to be reborn. 

Change starts from the creative spark of the imagination. If we can dream it, we can make it so. 

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you Jennifer Browdy for your passionate search for answers to how to live with passion and integrity in this time of great sorrow and accelerating change and overwhelming destruction of the only home we have. To me it is a daily choice to not sink into despair or anger, I easily could, it is very tempting. Yes this is the decade of decision and our actions, large and small, matter. So in all this turmoil it is important to me to not get overwhelmed and do what I feel I need to do to keep my integrity, not so much because of result. It is a bit of a paradox that striving for change invites hurdles while improving your own behavior seems to make space for change around us. Quite often I feel that being quiet and simply listening to nature is by far the best I can do, it is like an exercise to tune in to that greater intelligence that seems to call us but is inaudible because of all the hyperactivity focusing on keeping us safe, not trusting nature to keep us safe as she has done to me till now because I am writing these words. We are in the decade of not knowing how this will end up and yet we also know that the result is somehow influenced by our choices and perceptions. When I wake up and hear the birds sing and see the sunlight and all the fenomenal nature around me, when I feel the wind touching my skin and my lungs fill up with life, when I taste the taste of pure water, I am so happy and grateful and whatever is happening in the world for a moment is not relevant, it is sheer bliss to be alive. Gratitude brings love, peace and abundance. That does not mean I will allow destruction to go unopposed, not at all, on the contrary because it damages what I love most and that is life, all life. Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog with us, thank you for sharing your journey in these most tempestuous and challenging times. I hope we will hear from many others about this journey we are all on, each different and yet all linked and somehow aligned.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  February 2, 2020

      “Quite often I feel that being quiet and simply listening to nature is by far the best I can do, it is like an exercise to tune in to that greater intelligence that seems to call us but is inaudible because of all the hyperactivity focusing on keeping us safe…”

      Yes, I think this is so important as a daily practice. As I wrote in the post, Nature doesn’t wail and moan, she is not fearful about the future–she is a wonderful model of BEING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT, which is all we can ever do or be. I also know that we can impact the future by our creative envisioning in the present. What and how we think has a greater impact than most of us realize. Fear breeds more fear. Trust breeds more trust. So we have to focus on what we want more of, and try to bring that quality into our present moment. That is what I’m up to with my Alchemy series of purposeful memoir workshops–working with the past, in the present, to change the future….

      Reply
  2. Penny Gill

     /  February 3, 2020

    dear Jennifer..well, I have read your question #3 several times, and I must say, I would argue with you about almost every single claim you make about political change, political systems, political history of the last 500 years, your willingness to ignore the rule of law, to adopt the strategies of violence to change the US system, and much much more. In fact, I have been deeply disturbed by what you write, and frankly, utterly astonished. I’m not sure what else to say here. I don’t intend to have that argument with you, but I would surely hope you would return to some of what you suggest as appropriate strategy on behalf of mobilizing people to act on climate change, and consider more carefully what might be the longer term consequences of using violence as a major way to achieve your goals. Penny

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  February 3, 2020

      Thanks for writing, Penny! I have been astonished, to use your word, at how people have stayed home as the travesty of justice has unfolded in the Senate impeachment “trial.” Lots of social media protest, but according to the NYT only 10 people were actually standing in front of the Congress urging the Senators to conduct a fear and impartial trial. I am not so much talking about violence or breaking the law, but in using our constitutional right to peaceful protest, Civil Rights Movement style. That is what I see Greta Thunberg urging the young climate strikers to do; it’s what Jane Fonda has been doing with her celebrity crowd; and although I am not practicing what I preach so far, I am thinking about it!

      Reply
  3. I wrote a heartfelt longish response, and I guess it didn’t “take.” I’m kinda sad… however, just know that I’m living the question, too…

    Reply
    • ps. Just writing my longish response clarified certain things for me (the balance of my nature-oriented spiritual path and Nature Herself in contrast with my anguish over events that cause pain where I inform myself and take what action I can. The need for my spiritual path to be grounding like a tree weathering a dramatic wind storm whatever happens as my continual learning) As much as I was casting about to see if I could relocate my initial response, once I accepted it was no longer, I was also reminded of the importance of letting go! Thanks for sharing and inviting responses, Jennifer! Blessings and Tree hugs! 😉

      Reply
  4. Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

     /  February 8, 2020

    So sorry you lost that response, Katey–but yes, in the end we do have to let go, and we’re always practicing for that….

    My next Question is coming tomorrow–these are coming out in no particular order, just as the spirit moves me….

    Thanks so much for reading and responding! Tree hugs back atcha!

    xo
    Jennifer

    Reply

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