Facing the Abyss

The last several posts have been about navigating the gritty realism before us. This one follows suit. And gives the reason I choose to focus on thrivability.

Months burn by bringing ever more forecasts of catastrophe. Ocean ph, glacier melt, that crazy island of plastic in the Pacific, economic meltdown, emergent disease, famine, and so much more. Those who believe that we are god’s chosen people stand in stoic denial, and the rest of us can sense the weight of imminent convergent crisis. At first I was hopeful that we could address these issues. Then I was saddened as the bombardment of horror stories of a terrible future kept coming. Before long I felt myself on the edge of the abyss. I have always been concerned with the ethics of our future and what we are doing today that will set our trajectories for tomorrow. The darkness ahead got darker. US politics made it seem like we were on a completely suicidal course to revel in our own collapse. The abyss loomed grandly.

I took a drive in 07 across half the country (and back). I looked at the Grand Canyon. And wow, we are surely facing erosion of possibilities on that grand of a scale. Except ours is not so lovely. And then I went to the Petrified Forest park. Time grew very long. Here were huge trees, very likely older than my life span. They grew, they died, they fell into a swampy area, and they became rock. I looked above me at the gorgeous night sky that evening. Stars whose lives span millions of years cluttered the desert sky with their energetic light (racing light years across the universe). We are so incredibly tiny. The hugeness of our crisis faded. We may destroy ourselves or fall back into earlier states of culture as current structures massively fail. Or not. On some future path, we could destroy half the planet or all of it. The vast universe will hardly note it. It is always in a state of change, existing in time frames that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind. This is an abyss – the edge of the mind’s ability to grasp time and space and our incredible vanity at thinking that we or the planet matter to anything outside ourselves.

Zooming in and out is such a powerful skill in managing awareness. But I will explain that elsewhere. Here, let’s stand at the abyss together. Look out into the everythingness…and the nothingness. Our own destruction…and how our frail existence as individuals and even as a planet is infinitesimally small in the space of the universe.

I accepted that and some peace came to me. But what now? If I can hold a perspective in which my heart doesn’t collapse from the suffering we have and bring on ourselves in our present and future, then what? What do I do now with this frail, precious, wild, and very temporary life I have?

My email signature reads: “Act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” — Buddha

Let’s imagine the arcs of the future streaming before us. To the left, let us see the future that stems from inaction – failure to change course. It is riddled with crisis and vast human and living system suffering. Likely large scale migrations as one area becomes toxic (in actuality or in energy and access to resources). Disparities in wealth, aka access to the things we need, escalates into greater and greater Extremistan. To the right, let us be powerfully visionary and imagine the best possible future. Turn off the inner skeptic. Imagine future generations enjoying natural areas and clean air, imagine everyone having ready access to water and healthy foods, medical care, shelter, etc, where they are free from gross conflicts and free to pursue their passions.

The real future is somewhere in the middle, I suspect. But, for this thought experiment, let’s assume that one can either be a pessimist (left) or an optimist (right).

If I live my day to day life believing that the only possible outcome is the future to the left, why should I take any action? Why should I even get up in the morning? My brief life might be full of some immediate pleasures, but it will end with no inspiring legacy and a terrible shame that thousands and thousands of years of human evolution collapsed in my day. Personally, choosing to believe that feels like suicide of the spirit to me. It is all for naught. Don’t bother leaving a sign to mark the grave.

If I live my day to day life believing that the possibility (without being totally blind to the brutal facts before us) – that there is some possibility to move from the stream on the left to the stream on the right…in my lifetime it might not be 100% to the right, but maybe 70%? Where might it go? What might I do to move that path to the right – toward possibilities of humans evolving in dynamic relationship to the systems around us – toward thriving?

I can’t tell you what the future holds. We are not there yet. Sure we can do trending and trajectories, but in a world of tipping points, phase shifts, and extremistan logic, I don’t trust those very much. (It could be much worse or suddenly shift course). I can tell you that I am choosing, consciously choosing, the belief in the possibility of the future on the right – the thrivable one. It is not about truth – philosophy makes a mess of truth… It is about what is useful to believe. It is about believing in something so I can get up in the morning and greet my friends with a heart bursting with love.

The steps we take each day determine the fate of our present…and guide us into a future together. Which future do you want to head toward? Which dream do you want to believe in? For all visions of the future are only dreams in the mind. Which dreams are useful to you today?

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5 Comments »

  1. @scottrcrawford said

    Thank you, Jean.
    Sincerely.
    Laughing with, not at.
    Leaving rather than taking.
    Praying the serenity prayer.
    This day.

  2. Thank you Scott. The trick with the serenity prayer is really having the wisdom to know the difference. This is no place to underestimate our capacity to make change. We, collectively, sell ourselves short on our ability to transform our world. Shoot – that is another post. 🙂 Will do that tomorrow.

  3. steve said

    I am not wise enough to know exactly what to do and the various challenges are daunting. The only way I know how to deal with it is to work on what bits I can – where I might have a bit of talent and energy – and trust my judgement that my effort is not counterproductive. I’m not going to be doing what is perfect, but I can be “pretty good” and maybe even good enough for a single person.. It isn’t easy as there is much to learn, but that is not a bad thing.

    If I am lucky, perhaps I can inspire friends as they inspire me and together we can all be doing something that is “pretty good”. That makes me smile and is reason for joy. It is impossible not to be optimistic when you are filled with joy.

  4. Steve, I think that is the appropriate approach. The data to consider in making the ultimate right choice – should such a thing even be possible – the data is enormous – system upon system, interlocking and related. So, yes, I think striving for the best we can do and hoping that it is “pretty good” is wise. I also agree that connecting with others weaves the larger effort. And brings joy. Thank you.

  5. Having read this I thought it was very informative.
    I appreciate you finding tthe time and effort to put this article together.
    I once aggain find myself spending way tooo muchh
    time both reading and posting comments. But so what,
    it was still worth it!

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