It is Election Day as I begin this writing. What are we thinking, and not thinking?
The top 2 issues for the American people according to NBC news on Sunday night are 1) jobs and the economy and 2) gridlock. The list of other most important issues include healthcare, social security and medicare.
Earlier in the same broadcast was this report. “Climate Warning: A major UN report out today gives a dire warning about inaction on climate change. The world’s top scientists say that unless nations agree to drastic reduction in emissions we’re facing a future with intense heat waves, storms and flooding of major cities. The report says that the risks are so profound that they could undermine global food and water supplies.”
For 40 years I have been listening to dire warnings from environmental scientists. They have known and stated clearly that this is coming if we don’t radically reverse our behavior right away. All these years, since I first started tuning in during my 20’s, I have sat in awe as the apparent denial about our situation seemed to prevent any general reporting of this or any real effort to change direction. Only in very recent years have issues about climate change been mentioned to the public. Climate warnings were, and are, considered by many a left wing conspiracy to interrupt the progress of our rabid consumerist economy.
I have asked myself all along the way, “Shouldn’t having air to breathe, water to drink, top soil for planting and a healthy biosphere to sustain life on our planet be at the very top of every list of concerns?” What will it matter if there are jobs or social security or medicare or even human rights if we don’t have air to breathe or water to drink? It has been unbelievable to me that this priority seems to be so hard to establish.
A brilliant writer for The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, has just published a book entitled The Sixth Extinction. This is a very readable book intended for a general audience, outlining ways that human behavior is causing mass extinctions, disrupting earth’s balanced and interconnected systems to the extent that it is “putting our own survival in danger.” There are YouTube videos of interviews with her that are very much worth viewing. In one of them, Canadian environmental scientist David Suzuki explains that we must have a radical shift in our economic system in order to save the planet. His words:
We need to shift that to a better understanding that we are part of a vast web of interconnected species; that it is the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land where all life exists. It is a very thin layer around the planet. Carl Sagan told us that if you shrink the Earth to the size of a basketball, the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land where all life exists, would be thinner than a layer of saran wrap. And that’s it! That’s our home. But it is home to 10 to 30 million other species that keep the planet habitable. And if we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world, and dependent on nature — not technology, not economics, not science — we’re dependent on Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economics, corporations, markets. Those are all human created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere.
Kolbert and others suggest that we have to look for the root cause of the problems we have created. Environmental programs are needed, but they are working on the surface of the problem, not investigating what as at the root in human consciousness. That is where our study and reflection needs to be directed.
Carl Jung said “The world hangs on a thin thread. And that is the psyche of man… We are the great danger. Psyche is the great danger.” “We need psychology. We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself.”
My years of living with this concern have led me to some strong convictions about what went wrong with humans that we could create the catastrophe we have created without even realizing it. Eco-theologian Thomas Berry puts it well when he says that we have broken “the great conversation,” the conversation taking place among every other thing in the world around us — human, non-human and spirit alike. Animals, plants, rocks, trees, rivers, bio-systems all have a language, they are all talking to each other and to us, but we have stopped listening. We are only talking among ourselves, only listening to ourselves. Berry believes we have entered a “profound cultural pathology,” and thus we are killing the planet and ourselves without even hearing the death cry.
How do we re-enter the conversation, revive our capacity to hear, understand and re-join the urgently necessary dialogue? I am presently writing a book of my reflections on this, with a working title of The Gifts of Your Indigenous Mind. I will say simply here, though, that I believe the solution is to re-enter the Dreaming — that state of awareness that aboriginal and indigenous peoples inhabited while awake as well as during sleep, which we have let slip into the unconscious so far that it primarily now only visits us during sleep. And we have even lost the language for how to understand our dreams. In the Dreaming the great conversation carries on. Our survival, and the future of the planet for our children, depends on us to remember and recover. Soon. Now.
The main thing is to listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to Nature, to the in-between spaces, to the natural mind, to the place beyond thought, to the body, to the Earth, to the whispers coming from every cell on Earth and in the stars.
I have recently read two books that I highly recommend to assist one to revive the Dreaming. In Dreaming With Polar Bears, Dawn Brunke recounts a powerful series of lucid dreams in which she meets the spirits of wise and loving polar bears. They communicated to her about themselves, their minds and their understandings of humans and the paths we have taken. And in Songlines of the Soul, Veronica Goodchild shares astonishing information and stories about her investigation of what she calls the Subtle Body and Subtle Worlds. Her book is scientific and scholarly, as well as dreamlike as it guides the reader into the subtle dimensions of reality, even now being discovered by physicists and scientists, as well as mystics and dreamers.
I was fortunate to have known Buckminster Fuller through my childhood. Our family spent time with him and his family every summer at their island retreat off the coast of Maine. What Bucky taught me during those years has been guiding me powerfully ever since. One of the last conversations I had with him stands out, and haunts me still. He had recently published his book Critical Path, describing his understanding that humanity has entered its “final exam” as to whether it qualifies for continuance in Universe or not. Bucky looked distracted, maybe not feeling well, as I sat across from him at a restaurant that day. I asked him if he felt alright. He looked straight into my eyes and said, with an expression I won’t forget, that he was not sure that we humans are going to make it. I don’t know where Bucky stood on this subject when he died a few years later. However that moment was one of the most defining moments of my life. I have committed myself to this inquiry ever since.
Einstein famously stated that “you can’t solve a problem at the same level of thinking that created the problem in the first place.” All of our tinkerings and efforts to solve the climate problems we have begun have to be looked at from the “other” mind, I believe, the dreaming mind, our archaic or indigenous mind. There is a “2-million year old man,” Jung says, that resides in every one of us.
“Go to bed,” Jung wrote. “Think on your problem. See what you dream. Perhaps the Great [Hu]man, the 2,000,000 year old [hu]man will speak. Only in a cul-de-sac do you hear his voice.”