It seems we have entered a new phase in our journey of self-destruction, and the ecological and social collapse we have suspected to be on the horizon is now coming to meet us.
Protecting ourselves from hopelessness no longer serves us. As many enlightened activists have told us (such as Scilla Elworthy, nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize), only if we walk towards the darkness and not away from it, can we be transformed and be of real service to others or the world.
I cannot shake off the image of an individual facing a life-threatening illness. Confronted with a potentially terminal diagnosis, making rapid outer changes in lifestyle is immediate, driven by the determination to live. But surrendering to the real possibility of death is behind the deeper change – change which could be viewed through the lens of reconciliation. Reconciliation with our own mortality and with how our individual life has been lived often leads to reconciliation with our family, to making peace with our enemies, and to decisions – made with a sharply awakened consciousness – about which values to live by if time might be limited.
I’ve seen awe-inspiring change made by people in these situations. I’ve seen people drop grudges and let go of fixed patterns overnight, in a way that seemed almost unbelievable to those around them. I’ve seen people give up long-held defences and open to the beauty and spontaneity of life. It’s as if a secret reveals itself about what it means to be human. The seriousness also catapults us beyond the limits of the physical body and into the journey of the soul. Something much bigger than our own individual life makes its presence felt – whether we call that God, or experience it through the power of human love and our existence in a web of relationship with others.
All this happens when we are brave enough to go beyond denial, to embrace despair and be changed by it. And miracles are possible in this space.
Sitting with this theme of reconciliation, I feel a call to reach inward – to ask my own heart how I can love more fearlessly – not just those close to me, but our whole human family and those around the world whose lives are already being torn apart. How can I allow my heart to be broken by it all – by the beauty of what we are destroying, by the melody of a solitary blackbird, or by those pregnant moments before first light, as a dark winter night awakens into day. How can I live the knowledge that mystery is present even in the midst of what is falling apart?
I also feel a call to reach outwards – to colleagues, activists and spiritual companions – to make space for retreat and discernment. Not to give up on outer action which is critical, but to explore in parallel this inner work of reconciliation and see if we can source the resilience that comes only from being in touch with the depths. How can we prepare honestly for what is coming? How can we act with integrity, and keep acting from that place, even on the days when it all seems futile? How can we meet this with the full depth of our spirituality – with both the ferocious passion and the ruthless inner detachment that real service demands?
To those willing to look into the abyss – may our love and connection with each other and with Earth make this a time of meaning – and sustain us in the times to come.
First published by Extinction Rebellion in October 2018. Written in response to Jem Bendell’s paper on Deep Adaptation