There is a growing consciousness – or at least a suspicion – that things are not going all that well for humanity and for the Earth that we live on. People are beginning to talk openly about the possibility that we may have exhausted the ability of the Earth to sustain us, that human civilization may soon collapse, that the world as we know it may come to an untimely and uncomfortable end.
This is scary news. This is not a story we would tell ourselves if we had the choice. It seems to portend the loss of everything we hold dear: our lives, our families, our property, the very individuality that we recognize as “ourselves.” It seems like annihilation – something very much to be feared.
How are we to cope with the end of the world? How shall we face Death – our own death, and the death of everything we know and love? Where is the path to safety?
I believe there are answers to these questions. I have my own answers (which I will share), and I believe that every living being can find answers that are meaningful, powerful, and effective. It is the great task of our time for everyone to find the answers that have meaning in their own lives, and to put them into practice. I suggest that now is a good time!
Here is my answer, for what it’s worth: The dreadful crisis that we are experiencing now is a spiritual story expressed in a physical way. The physical story is likely to have a terrible ending – fire, flood, chaos, disaster, misery, and death. The spiritual story, on the other hand, has a happy ending. The terrible occurrences at the end of the world are part of a transition that is normal and expected. This catastrophe is an opportunity to transcend the current human story altogether, and to find a new place in the wider, welcoming universe. All is well.
To believe my answer, you must accept the notion that there is more to our lives than we have generally been taught. Our culture exalts the idea of an individual soul wrapped in a bag of skin and bones, facing an “outside world” which must be navigated and mastered. This ideology does not accord with our actual experience, and it has proven in practice to produce horrible results. We have been hypnotized into a false view of ourselves and the world, and now is the time to wake up.
The important practice to engage in, if we wish to inhabit the spiritual dimension, is to pay attention to what is actually happening. Generally speaking, we do not live in the world, but in the stories we tell ourselves about the world. We put a lot of energy into telling ourselves stories – to comfort ourselves, to protect ourselves from bad feelings, or to make sense of things which are confusing. The first step is to rest, to lay down the burden of creating a world for yourself by telling yourself stories. Then, you can begin to perceive what is going on around you in a reliable and helpful way.
The question is: “How are we to cope with the end of the world?” What is your answer? If you don’t have one, or if you’re not sure about the one you have, now is the time to start investigating more deeply.
There is no one true story, regardless of what anyone may tell you. For you, it may not even be a “story” – maybe it’s a feeling, or a place, or a way of being that you cannot describe. The important thing is that it is yours, or more exactly, it is YOU! Whatever you believe, or feel, or know – go into it! Go deeply, penetrate distractions, use anything that is meaningful to you, and find your path. It is there, I promise you!
The Physical Story
Now that I have suggested how to cope with it, I can summarize the story of the physical world as best we know it today. It is bad news. It is the worst news that anyone has ever told, ever. I do not exaggerate.
Humans have used up the world, and the world is dying. More specifically, the “biosphere” – the interconnected web of life in the oceans, in the air, and on the land – is dying. It now seems likely that the biosphere could be more or less completely dead within the prospective lifetimes of people who are alive today. I told you it was bad news!
The principle mechanism of this mass extermination is a breakdown of the physical systems that have maintained the temperature of the Earth within a habitable range for the past couple of million years. The excavation and burning of “fossil fuels” (i.e. coal and oil) has put carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere, trapping heat on the earth by a “greenhouse effect.” That extra heat is melting the polar icecaps, reducing the reflectivity of the earth’s surface, allowing even more heat to be absorbed. There are very well-informed people who are now saying publicly that we have passed the “tipping point;” that so much ice has already melted that the heating will continue no matter what we do. We are living in a time of “runaway climate change,” and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
Climate heating causes changes in the weather, which affects human agriculture. Storms are more frequent, less predictable, and more powerful. There are changes in patterns of precipitation that humans have relied on for centuries. Some parts of the world become so hot that humans cannot even live there, much less grow crops. Obviously, if humans cannot feed themselves, there is likely to be a lot of trouble.
Additionally, there are the issues of rising sea-levels, acidification of the oceans, destruction of forests and other natural environments, the depletion of fish populations in the oceans, and wholesale destruction of animal populations on the land. Suffice it to say that industrial civilization has proven to be an unhealthy way of living, and it will not continue.
What Do We Actually Do, Now?
Given this apocalyptically grim scenario, what are we to actually do, now, in our daily lives? My answer, above, refers to spiritual beliefs and practices, and I believe those are ultimately the only things that will make any difference. So I say again: “Find yourself. Lay down the stories you have been taught to believe, and seek the truth about who you really are.”
In practice, I offer this suggestion: When you are trying to make a decision about something you want to do – should I spend money? should I travel? should I enter or end a relationship? – give a bias to the present day, as opposed to the future. Do things because you love to do them, not because they will produce a result at some future time. This doesn’t mean you should sabotage the structure of your life by spending all your money or doing foolish things! Anything you do is the right thing to do if you perform it with attention and reverence.
It is likely that considering these difficult issues will at some point give rise to feelings of fear, loss, and grief. We have been taught to deny and avoid these feelings, and we don’t necessarily have good ways to handle them. Don’t do it alone. The simple act of sharing your feelings makes them easier to bear. Perhaps surprisingly, listening to others’ feelings can also be a healing experience. The word “compassion” means “to feel together,” along with the desire to relieve suffering. Practice compassion for yourself and others.
What am I doing?
In writing this blog, I am following my own advice: I am going deeply into myself and nurturing what I find there. I do it because I love it! Also, I know that other people’s writings have given me comfort, entertainment, and the assurance that I am not alone; perhaps I can return the favor!