(The article below was published in the Mt Shasta Herald, a weekly newspaper in South Siskiyou County in far northern California, on Wednesday, January 20, 2010)
Here in Siskiyou County, at the foot of a magnificent Mount Shasta, we live in relative peace in a relatively healthy environment. There is so much to be thankful for, and touching into our gratitude opens our hearts and minds to the beauty and abundance around us.
However, at the beginning of a new decade, we also face unprecedented challenges in the larger world, with global climate change, peak oil, seemingly endless wars, and a collapsing economy. These challenges are present for us here in Siskiyou County, as families grapple with job loss, foreclosures, rising prices for food, fuel, and other necessities. We grapple as well with threats to our clean air and water, and the local effects of climate change. Our young people enlisted in military service are in danger of being severely wounded or killed in action—or returning home traumatized for life.
We all have feelings about these challenges, feelings we may keep under wraps most of the time. We may feel fear about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren, anger about corporate greed and political corruption, and grief at the loss of forests, species, and the beautiful, thriving natural landscapes we remember from childhood. We may just feel numb, powerless, and resigned to living in a degraded world.
Far from being neurotic or a sign of weakness, these feelings are actually healthy! Eco-philosopher and activist Joanna Macy believes these feelings are evidence of our interconnectedness within the web of life. Feelings are feedback from the living system of Earth, designed to warn us of danger to our life support systems and motivate us to act. Suppressing these healthy feelings can lead to depression, chronic anxiety, lack of meaning and purpose, and even physical illness. Sharing our feelings with friends who will really listen—and share their feelings, too—can free us for action and greater enjoyment of the life we have.
Here’s the good news: not only do we receive feedback from the larger world, we can also receive strength and guidance. Consider that nature flourished for millions of years before humans came along, and with humans for another ten thousand years or so, up until the time of the industrial revolution. We have so much to learn from nature; we need to follow her lead in how we live, instead of insisting on imposing our will and technologies upon her.
Spending time immersed in nature can renew our sense of connectedness and hope, especially if we don’t distract ourselves with motorized vehicles or electronic media. We regain our sense of balance and harmony by hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing through the forest, or simply sitting in the sun by a river or lake. We remember who we really are: creatures of this living Earth, totally dependent on her air, water, energy, and food. We are not separate from Earth, and none of us can live without a healthy ecosystem—no matter how much money we make or power we wield in the human world.
The balance and harmony attained in such quiet times of reflection may also help us discover our own “path of heart.” By this I mean the path that enables each of us to contribute to what Joanna Macy and others call “ the Great Turning”—from our current socio/economic system that demands continuous industrial growth on a planet with finite resources, to a society that embraces life sustaining values and practices.
Each of us has unique gifts to offer, unique talents and resources to help this Great Turning succeed. There is no one prescription about how we should all act. And no one of us can do it alone—it will take each and all of us acting from our love of life to turn things around. The feelings stirred up in us by the enormous challenges we face arise from this deep love of life. Recognizing that source can clear the way for us to participate more fully in the Great Turning.