It is said to be a precarious time that we live in. I suggest that we have always lived in precarious times, as our fragile bodies are susceptible to illness, injury, and death, no matter the circumstances. But, alas, in this time things are especially precarious. I cannot argue otherwise, for it is not only our own mortality that we are faced with, but the mortality of our entire species and the entirety of many other species as well.
Brian Swimme, a cosmologist who co-wrote The Journey of the Universe, says that our time is unique specifically because we are faced with extinction and we are aware of it. Before the 19th century, Swimme claims that we did not even have the concept of extinction available to us – we could not imagine that an entire mode of life, unique forms such as the Tasmanian Tiger of Australia or the West African Black Rhinoceros, could disappear forever. Whether it is true that this concept of extinction is relatively new, it is undeniable that we are aware of it now. Not only that, we as humans are faced with the great responsibility of being the main perpetrators of annihilation.
According to many sources, we humans are on the brink of possible extinction as well, due to changes in the global climate. You might be aware of the intensification of weather patterns, such as the record breaking hurricanes that hit Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida, as well as the fires that swept through the west coast of the US. This is likely to only become more common. I know some people who have their eye on these developments have a sense of apocalyptic times. I don’t disagree. Though I don’t presume to know what will happen, it seems clear to me that these are times of “the lifting of the veil,” which is what the word apocalypse actually means.
What can we turn to and what must we courageously refuse to turn away from as the veils are lifted? I think it’s important, nay, essential and critical, as Joanna Macy says, to feel the pain of the world. Let us greet pain not as an enemy whose only purpose is to cause us misery, but as a friend who has come to help us become more aware. There is no need to wallow in the grief, sadness, despair, anger, hatred, and frustration – the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pains – that accompany our lives, but it is critically important that we allow the pain to be felt. Such pain is not evil, nor insurmountable. Such pain is a guiding light that can direct us toward change that aligns us with what is most important in life. If we did not have the pain, how could we know to take our hand off the hot stove, how could we know what foods to eat and which to avoid, how would we know how to care for these precious and sensitive bodies that we so thoroughly depend upon for our Earthly enjoyment? With the understanding that pain is a friendly, though perhaps intense, messenger of greater awareness and care, we begin to change our relationship to it, empowering us to be response-able to the guidance it is offering.
As I begin to allow myself to turn toward my own pain, I have more capacity to be with the pain of others, the pain of the world. Thomas Berry said that the root of our pain and the root of the pain that we are causing lies in the sense of discontinuity that we have between ourselves, others, the Earth, and the Universe itself. It is this sense of discontinuity that is at the core of all feelings of alienation and loneliness, as well as the exploitation that stems from the idea that our fellow Earthlings are resources to be used. Berry wanted us to realize our continuity with all that is. Indeed, we are continuous with the community of life on this planet, with our human and more-than-human communities, with the Sun that so generously and freely gives us energy, with the entire galaxy, and with the Universe itself, from which we were born, which we depend on and co-create with. Whether you look to science, with its increasing understanding of the quantum connectedness of all things, or the great spiritual traditions that have long shared the Golden Rule (What you do to others, so you do unto yourself), the message is clear: we are all interconnected, we are continuous with one another.
“You are the Universe in the form of a human being,” says Brian Swimme. According to The Journey of the Universe, it took 13.7 billion years to create you. That number, 13.7 billion, is much closer to your true age than the one you normally identify with. And so it is with all beings – trees, birds, fish, mammals, and Mother Earth – we are all siblings arising from the same source. If you prefer the language of spirit, we are all within God and God is within all of us, we are all manifestations of Great Spirit. It is time to put this understanding into practice. This is how knowledge becomes Wisdom. We can practice embodying this view, we can train in remembering this truth that we so often forget. You, equally with all other beings, are one with the Universe. We must act accordingly.
Our fellow Earthlings are not resources to be used, but community members to co-create with. Our happiness and well-being increases when our community is happy and well. By giving to others we do not lose, we gain, because we are all intimately interconnected. This is the shift that we are being called to make. The stakes are high. Mother Earth will challenge us more and more, pushing us with her fierce love to wake up from our slumber. It is time to embrace our role as humans, and more importantly, as Earthlings.