Into the Unknown
Glastonbury Oracle, September 2020
Last month I suggested that there could be no political solution to the world’s accumulating problems, the predicament that we face is too enormous and too deep; what’s needed is a whole new way of thinking about ourselves and our relationship with the rest of the planet. I would like to explore what that really means, and what it might look like.
Five years ago I wrote a book called ‘The River’ about the River Brue and the River Axe, which until medieval engineering work divided them had been one river. Their disconnection is for me an allegory for humanity’s disconnection from ourselves, from each other and from the natural world. This disconnection is a key part of the problem.
More recently, a number of writers have stated uncompromisingly that, with climate change and other aspects of ecological breakdown, the result will inevitably be societal collapse. Jem Bendell, whose Deep Adaptation Agenda has become a worldwide movement, is perhaps the most prominent. The Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has been saying for some years that our culture has become dangerously toxic and cannot last much longer. The Buddhist leader and founder of ‘engaged Buddhism’ Thich Naht Hanh has made similar statements.
Joanna Macy, whose ‘Work that Reconnects’ addresses directly our state of disconnection and the emotional crisis that can result, has seen her work as a contribution to what she calls ‘The Great Turning’, a complete change of direction for human life and culture. Recently her perspective on this has shifted. She no longer expects the ‘Turning’ to come about in the context of the culture that we know.
In a recent article she introduced the Buddhist concept of ‘The Bardo’. This is ‘the space between the worlds’, and generally refers to the space between death and re-birth in a new incarnation. On a global scale, Joanna Macy is using it to mean the space between the end of the culture that is dying and the new civilisation that has not yet emerged. This could mean a period of decades, perhaps generations.
We are stepping, right now, into the unknown. The coming times, whilst being full of revelation, will be extremely uncomfortable, chaotic, crisis layered upon crisis. What is currently happening in Libya is more likely to be the pattern for the world than any neat manifesto or scientific plan designed to ‘fix’ the problems. Neither will some apocalyptic vision become manifest and remove our collective responsibility for what has been done to the planet.
At the same time, there is the opportunity for a renewed sense of purpose, to put our trust in Earth’s life force and a new stage of evolution – perhaps as profound as the time when single-celled organisms averted catastrophe and found the way forward through co-operation and the creation of what we now understand as ‘life forms’.
To take part in such a shift would be immense. It would necessarily involve every aspect of life as we know it; yet the solution – however unimaginable at present – does not have to be complicated. Life is sacred and one integrated wholeness, the entire world, and that’s what has been forgotten. What it will take for us humans to remember it I really don’t know; but once that has happened, everything will change.