Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Shift Is Coming - Part II / What Can I Do?

A TRC series by Gabrielle Price

At the end of Part I, I left readers with this suggestion: "Begin by embracing the reality that we are no longer passengers on this ship, we are all crew.  Prepare to roll up your sleeves."

It has been some time since I worked on this series.  The first part came so easily that it practically wrote itself.  A wonderful thing for a writer [or any craft, for that matter] is to be 'in the zone.'  Lately, or at least since the first installment, that zone had escaped me due to personal circumstances at home.  The loss of a family matriarch, my 90 year old grandmother had passed away the same week my daughter moved further away from home.  There was quite a lot of female/mother energies shifting.

They still are.  Shifting is happening in big ways for many because no one is immune to change. This is the law of nature.  Pure physics -- which isn't always kind to us two-legged, supposedly evolved, mammals when we aren't prepared for certain eventualities.  Then again, no amount of preparation can truly prepare us for inevitable changes, except perhaps for the Buddhist practice of detachment.  There is a healthy way to do this that does not involve becoming an automaton.  Many 'self-help' Westerners who practice believe that once they have healed their own suffering, that this is the intellectual end goal of enlightenment -- far from it. Only detachment from ego [a spiritual death, or a grieving experience that makes us examine our own death] serves to connect us with our heart, our compassion with ourselves and others. This can end indifference to the suffering of other beings around the world once we see our sameness in their suffering -- suffering often far worse than any untraveled Westerner could imagine.

Once that understanding is reached, the revelations begin to surface that much of that suffering is a direct result of our ego attachments.  That our consumer society creates suffering.  Not only for ourselves, but other peoples, countries and the planet.  The wheel of life.  In Buddhist art, the whole of the wheel is held in the grip of Mara, the demon of illusion -- the source of all suffering or Samsara.  Attachment to ego illusions like money, status or power [or in Buddhist texts: desire, aversion, and ignorance].

I found a recent piece I want to share about this very subject -- especially the artwork, which I found genius and amazing in its simplicity to explain this teaching.  I present Uncle Samsara:
Please click to full view this amazing Americosmos mandala.
Earth day, every day
I began writing this on Earth Day.  A Sunday.  They should have happened as often as Sundays or better yet, every day.  We will soon not have much choice in the matter with all the shifts happening now.  If we intend on celebrating an annual occurrence of this day in future.

To those who would automatically jump to an image of Al Gore in your mind's eye -- you have been seduced by the Lord of Illusion -- Uncle Samsara.   The earth itself is far more important to listen to -- her language is science.  It takes priority over whether some political figure's feelings are hurt or by some egoistic notion of what a corporation wants people greenwashed to believe.  Their attachment is to illusion that causes infinite suffering and they can no longer be believed or we choose to perpetuate more suffering.  It is as simple as that.

Only reality -- pure physics -- should be focused upon.  The bad news: because money has been the driving force behind the fact that we have not focused on the science alone -- we're about 40 years too late for a monetary and energy resource-based solution to her suffering. Science [the language of earth] tells us we are also past peak oil which means it is more expensive to obtain now than ever before.  Remember it takes energy to produce and build.

Do you still believe the economy can be fixed based on the continued illusion of 'infinite growth'?  If so, I invite you to take a closer look at the mandala above to see where you may fit into this wheel of American life.  Though, in the minds of many awakened beings, it is more a bubble.

Now -- remove money and oil from the wheel entirely and look again.  What happens to your place on the wheel?  What happens to the wheel itself?  How does that make you feel? 

Believe it or not, no matter how confusing or painful that scenario seems, that is the good news for the planet.  It can be great news for us if we are prepared to practice some spiritual tough love and get real with ourselves.  It's time for radical detachment.  Soon we will not have the option of 'practicing' for it.

The best example I can give is to introduce you to a person who took that leap, Professor Guy McPherson.

Walking away from Uncle Samsara

*Going Back to the Land in the Age of Entitlement / by Guy McPherson
The threat of rapidly increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, coupled with ongoing human-driven extinction of Earth’s nonhuman species, strongly suggest it is no longer just the living planet we should be concerned about.  Instead, we should be deeply concerned about the near-term future of Homo sapiens.  A moral question arises: As an individual, what is each of us going to do about it?
My response as a 49-year-old, tenured, full professor was to resign my position and go back to the land, where my wife and I share, with another family, an off-the-grid (i.e., not connected to public utilities) dwelling and I try to inspire others to change their lives to become more supportive of life on Earth.  The reasons for changing my lifestyle reflect my core beliefs.  I no longer contribute to an empire built on an industrial economy based on consumerism, and thus resist imperialism (i.e., the dominant paradigm, which is characterized by oppression and hierarchy), or live in a city, which is not supported by my moral imperatives.  As an academic, I could not devote enough time to my messages to people of the world’s industrialized nations about the consequences of addiction to fossil fuels.  Because I am increasingly self-sufficient, I can extend my life for a few years beyond completion of the ongoing, human-induced economic and environmental collapse.  
In Power Politics, Arundhati Roy (2001) wrote, “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There’s no innocence.  Either way, you’re accountable.”
I recognize my own accountability for a system that depends for its survival on destruction.  I do not want to bring torture and suffering to humans and other animals, so I opted out of a system that requires for its persistence never-ending economic growth and therefore extraction-based abuse of the world’s lands and waters.  I do not want to destroy the living planet so that a few humans can continue to live comfortably at the expense of every other culture and species.  I do not want to be responsible for extinguishing habitat for humans on Earth.  The political, economic, military, and cultural effects of the United States epitomize imperialism because the United States occupies the world to serve its perceived needs. Dropping out of the American empire, which requires obedience at home and oppression abroad in the name of economic growth, is a legitimate first step toward resisting imperialism, and it is legal.
After taking that first step away from industrial culture, the next steps were not any easier.  If the industrial economy is killing us, other species, and future prospects of human life on Earth—and abundant evidence indicates it is (Jensen 2006)—do I have an obligation to work toward the termination of the industrial economy?  What actions are necessary to terminate it?  Should I risk imprisonment, torture, and premature death in an attempt to resist the dominant paradigm and save the living planet for future generations of humans?  In other words, the impetus for my wholesale change in lifestyle arose when I asked myself what is the moral imperative regarding how I live?
The moral imperative is needed because the modern world essentially requires one to live immorally.  There is no doubt that a society that enslaves, tortures, and kills people and abuses the lands and waters needed for the survival of our species and others is immoral, yet these actions are produced with stunning efficiency by the world’s industrial economy, as epitomized by American empire.  Most people know that Big Energy poisons our water, Big Ag controls our food supply, Big Pharma controls the behavior of our children, Wall Street controls the flow of money, Big Ad controls the messages we receive every day, and the criminally rich get richer through exploitation of an immoral system.  This is how America works.  And, through it all, we think we live moral lives in the land of the free. 
Cities arose coincident with the world’s first civilizations thousands of years ago, and they allowed—and still allow—humans in industrial regions to extract water and food from other areas in exchange for garbage and pollution.  As such, cities represent the apex of empire and the least durable set of living arrangements.  My moral compass drove me away from Tucson, Arizona, a city of a million people that is typical of all that is wrong with cities and the American empire.
It is relatively easy to make a moral case in favor of exploiting the lands and waters myriad other species need to survive.  We merely need to convince ourselves that we are not really part of nature.  In doing so we swim in an ocean of cultural denial, awash in cognitive dissonance.  It is more difficult to make a moral case in favor of the ongoing destruction of Earth’s bounty, when we and future generations need a living planet to survive.   How do we justify unconstrained economic growth in the name of baubles that cost the lives of plants and animals (including humans)?  In destroying the living planet and all hope for future humans to occupy the planet, we are not behaving morally.  We have become so thoroughly disconnected from the land and our neighbors and so complacent that we no longer recognize moral behavior that leads to societal well-being and individual happiness.
In contrast to western civilization in general and the industrial economy in particular, I think a system is right and even just if it treats people alike and allows them to live free from the bonds of culture, politics, and a monetary system developed and implemented by others. The first 2 million years of the human experience come immediately to mind.  During this period, tribal humans were unshackled by cultural, political, and financial bonds. 
My response to a transient and immoral set of living arrangements is focused on self-reliance and introspection.  On our property, in the southwestern United States, which we share with another family, we secure our water outside the municipal system.  We work hard to secure our food without having to rely on grocery stores.  We maintain body temperature without using fossil fuels for heating and cooling.  And, we are investing heavily in our human and nonhuman neighbors.  Our nonhuman neighbors are the animals and plants, soil and water that we protect and honor as we do our human neighbors.  We attempt to safeguard them from the ravages of war and from an economy built on war.  We make every effort to live outside the industrial economy and within the real world of honest work and play, simple pleasures, and recognition of the consequences of our daily actions.  By our example, we are demonstrating how society can be restructured so that children and other humans will understand and value the origins of food and life.
My former employer did not find my messages about global climate change and energy decline nearly as important as growth of the industrial economy that allowed the institution to grow.  Leaving the university allowed me to leave the need for self-censorship behind.  My writing and presentations describe the nature of our predicaments and include evidence that only complete collapse of the industrial economy will prevent the runaway effects of greenhouse gases from destroying habitat for our species on Earth (Garrett 2009).  This is the good news associated with economic collapse.  Mitigating the effects of our dependence on fossil fuels—global climate change and reduced availability of energy resources—will require enormous courage, compassion, creativity, inspiration, and motivation.  We also need to recognize that it is too late for societal-level solutions and that we need practical, local solutions.  Local solutions must be based on a realistic set of assumptions about climate and energy, and my overall message centers on the moral, philosophical, and pragmatic aspects of mitigating the effects of industrial activities.
Personal survival was the least important reason I fled an empire in decline.  A reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions of at least 80% represents the single remaining hope to save the living planet on which we depend.  Such a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases will require termination of the industrial economy (Garrett 2009).  This will bring an end to the Age of Entitlement and draw us inexorably nearer to the Age of Consequences.  Because it spells the end of fuel at filling stations, food at grocery stores, and water coming out of municipal taps, termination of the industrial economy represents a significant threat to many people immersed in the industrial economy.  Although every civilization always hovers on the brink of chaos, history suggests empires do not break up suddenly; they dissolve gradually.  The demise of the American empire has been under way for many years, as evidenced by a decade of negative economic growth in the United States.  The last superpower, the Soviet Union, did not take a decade to fall (Orlov 2008), and the inexpensive crude oil required to sustain the industrial economy has been largely exhausted now that we have passed the peak in world extraction of conventional crude oil (Deffeyes 2005).
When I walked away from my city-based university position, I could barely distinguish between a screwdriver and a zucchini, which provides ample evidence about my building skills and my gardening abilities.  Now, though, I have hammered, drilled, sawed, plumbed, tiled, and constructed, as well as grown in ways I could not have imagined 2 years ago.  As I develop these skills further, I may be able to add a few years to my life when the ongoing economic collapse is complete.  More importantly, however, I am resisting the dominant paradigm because I can no longer live as part of an immoral system and look at my face in the mirror.  I walked away from prestige, money, and career in response to the moral question: As an individual, what is each of us going to do about it?  Will you join me?
Direct action meets direct inaction
At this point in the history of mankind, we may feel as if we don't have choices while the system continues to crumble -- but we do.  The best choice that some people can make for the planet we live on is to withdraw consent from the very system that claims to be democratic and build our own democracies locally.  Many people are occupying lifeboats outside the system.  Communities you can help to pioneer, be active within and begin making plans to prepare for energy depletion.  The old skills will be the best skills -- 'state of the art' technology simply cannot not follow us where we are going but we have enough low tech to apply it to old ways that were never outdated.  We simply have more around us that can be reused and re-purposed than was ever available during the days of the Great Depression.  There are ways to deal and heal that are constructive, educational, nurturing and harmonious with our natural world.  Permaculture farming alternatives, food co-ops, biking communities, rainwater catchment systems, alternative therapies and medicinals, ecovillages...

My grandmother survived the Great Depression.  One of the greatest gifts she ever gave me was stories about that time in history.  Will we survive the next one?  Only if we take the direct action of preparing for its arrival while actively fighting for clean air, water and soil that this system is hellbent to destroy for a buck, along with the rest of the planet.  The direct inaction -- or radical detachment -- is withdrawing consent from the failed system that is spiraling out of control like an addict or a wounded animal.  Our concerns are with the future -- not short term but long term -- further down the road than the "two term" concerns displayed by our shortsighted 'leaders' playing kick the can with corporations while we all lay awake nights concerned about the future of our families, children and grandchildren.

After hearing Guy speak on Earth Day and realizing I was not alone with this moral code -- this level of commitment to see something better for the natural world rather than civilization's ego dictates -- the Americosmos mandala appeared at once very small to me -- and Uncle Samsara quite pitiful in the long, colorful history of the great wheel of life.

And I laughed in spite of myself.

For the first time I understood this Zen proverb with the greatest clarity I had ever known:
"Let go or be dragged."

Will you join me?

*Conservation Biology, Vol 25, No. 5, 855–57 / 2011 Society for Conservation Biology
Professor Emeritus, Guy McPherson has lectured locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.  You can find his work online at Nature Bats Last.


  1. Thanks so much for your kindness, Ms. Price, and for sharing this evocative essay.

  2. It was and is my pleasure. I look forward to shaking your hand next week, my friend.

  3. Fantastic posts! You're doing a great thing with this, and I wish you well in your travels to NM.


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