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Our Challenges, Our Hope

Anyone looking at the state of the world with a sober eye will understand that people have to come together or we will perish. We need to feel and nurture harmony, rather than grasping for yet more control. There’s really no other choice. As long as we insist on emphasizing division, we will continue to create stress and conflict. Human conflict has been with us a very long time, but the scale of it has grown exponentially, from thrown spears to guided missiles, and from campfires to coal-fired industries. There’s only so much human-induced stress our planet can take and still sustain the web of life on which we depend.

Yet we seem mired in conflict on every front: we are in conflict with the natural world, with our own natures and with the reality of what is happening around us. The poorest and most vulnerable among us are under siege as much as is the air we breathe and the oceans we pollute with sound, plastic and acid. Nations are jealously pitted against each other, as are races, religions, economic classes, genders and corporate interests. Narrowly defined self-interest is a bitterly short-term view – and yet it has so deeply rooted itself in our psyches that it seems to trump all other considerations.

Our deeply conflicted state has its roots in our enculturated estrangement from the body. Living in our heads, we have systematically learned to override the body’s deep sensitivity, shouting it down, and even raging against it when it expresses its pain. We demean and deny its connected, holistic intelligence, casting its genius for harmony into oblivion. Our top-down, controlling relationship with the material body is the very stance we take against the maternal world. But it is also how we rule each other: it provides the template on which all our hierarchies are based – the head of a government or of a corporation takes charge, and that feels right, because we put the head in charge of the self.

We face some staggering challenges. Optimism is untenable. And yet, amid the dark shadows roiling over the landscape of our shared humanity, there is a deep ‘coming together’ of a new kind that keeps hope alive. The energy that has recently ignited around Standing Rock, gender equality, racial equality, religious tolerance, environmental concerns and income disparities is reminiscent of the ‘sixties. But there’s an important difference: the counterculture of the ‘sixties represented the first time in history that children turned to their parents and said, “What you are doing is wrong.” The current ‘coming together’ transcends generations.

Former hippies are now senior citizens, and some of them are joining with their children and even grandchildren in denouncing the corrosive appetites of the status quo. They recognize that business as usual is off the table, and they are coming together not out of narrow self-interest, but out of a shared moral outrage. And there is a powerful new force within the millennial generation that is giving much-needed substance to this groundswell: their genuine lack of interest in siding with the status quo, or buying into the narrative that sustains it.

The comforts, conveniences and entitlements of the twenty-first century have induced in us a sleepy disconnection from the life of the world around us. The warning sirens that might rouse us are trumpeting louder than ever. If they can bestir us to remember, and help bring us together, we have a chance. Much depends on our shaking off that forgetfulness and remembering the fragility of life, remembering our shared commonwealth, and awakening to the fact that our yearning for independence – from the body, from the world, from each other – is a dark fantasy that has entangled us and is pulling us down.

There is no example of independence in all the universe. Everything depends on everything; everything leans on everything. My fate and yours are inescapably intertwined. So ‘coming together’ too is only a sort of remembrance: we already are together, if only we could understand that.

But the deepest remembrance of all, the one our planet longs for, is the remembrance that will once again bring the intelligence of the head into seamless union with that of the body. Only that deep remembrance will defuse the primary conflict seeded in our psyches. It is to that remembrance that all my work is dedicated.

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