A rainbow-striped cowboy hat sits atop my rooster’s comb of uncombed and unwashed cherry-Kool-Aid-colored hair, so dry that it has taken on a synthetic texture any Muppet would envy.
The rest of my body is similarly soiled, coated in a fine layer of dust, and my stubble is growing more beard-like by the minute. Around my neck hangs a headlamp, three necklaces and one tie-dyed and tattered bandana, while my open vest reveals a magenta glitter tattoo of some sort of intergalactic tribal symbol emblazoned on my solar plexus. Below the waist: a black lace skirt, intricately patterned bell-bottoms with fake fur cuffs and fuzzy flip-flops of neon green.
I am, as you might have guessed, at Burning Man, an event that defies description. And I’m ready for an important video interview.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. In the back of my mind I can hear the voice of saturnine authority, the voice of aged fathers everywhere, the voice of The Man, nagging me with questions: “Do you really expect anyone to take you seriously in that getup? Do you really think you have anything valuable to say anyway? And do you really think you can change the world? Why don’t you get a job?”
Calmly I insist: this is my job. I’m a writer, a bearer of both good and bad news, a Buddhist. Technically, graphic design is what (barely) pays the bills, but this is my real job. In fact, let’s retire the word “job,” so weighted down with obligation. Let’s exhume the term “vocation,” shake off the dust of Calvinism, and stir in some vacation, for Christ’ sake. Better yet, we can dig up the Latin roots and call it a “calling.” Basically, it’s about doing what you love, as often and as well as possible.
“Get real!” says The Man, looming in the background. “Doing what you love is a luxury that most people will never be able to afford. Doing what you should is what makes the world go round. Life is about working hard and playing by the rules, paying your dues and your taxes.”
My inner activist calls Bullshit! Let’s look at where “business as usual” has gotten us: melting ice caps, declining natural systems, a growing plastic continent in the Pacific, and the swiftest mass extinction in geologic history, all driven by the overpopulation and overconsumption of a single species caught in the grips of institutionalized and globalized greed, anger, and delusion. The status quo is a suicidal and ecocidal system fueled by archaic notions of progress and myopic measures of success.
Besides, says my inner philosopher, what does it mean to “get real”? We live in a post-Newtonian, post-Kantian world in which reality is no longer understood as static, monolithic, deterministic and wholly objective. Rather, it’s evolving, contextual, fundamentally uncertain and participatory. As the cosmologist Brian Swimme says, “Within a static universe, your activities have to fit into an existing order. We don’t live in a set, existing order; we live in an order that is emerging.”
The Man, knowing that he has been figuratively burned, and will be literally and ritualistically burned before the weekend is over, retreats temporarily into his own lengthening shadow.
The videographer, Ian MacKenzie (aka Vision Weaver), is a kind, kindred spirit. I get that sense anyway, having met him the previous day at an interactive, heart-centered meditation that I facilitated at my archetypal astrology camp, Cosmicopia. Ian is collecting footage for the documentary filmmaker Velcro Ripper, whose most recent films include Scared Sacred and Fierce Light. The culmination of what Ripper calls the “Fierce Love Trilogy” is entitled Evolve
We borrow a relatively quiet and shady patch of real estate from a campmate, and Ian begins fiddling with his tripod and camera. For the first time in almost a week, I catch my reflection in a mirror and decide that the rainbow hat is just too much. Tossing it aside, I direct my inner reflection toward the main question posed by Ian and his boss: how can the climate crisis be understood as a love story? It’s a deep question that warrants an equally profound answer.
Before my thoughts have been gathered from the four quadrants of the cosmos, we’re rolling—digitally that is, although I do feel the psychoactive effects of a week in Wonderland. I give coherence my best shot as I introduce my self and my book, The Four Global Truths, and eventually launch into an open-ended investigation of the question that hangs heavily in the air.
To be honest, I have no idea how I answered. But I would like to imagine that I said something sensible and maybe even inspiring, perhaps something like this:
We are indeed living in a time of crisis; this is the first Global Truth. And as beings with a unique capacity for self-reflection, we have an innate need to make sense of the suffering we experience and witness in the world around us, partly because the pain is too much for the normal human heart to bear. So the mind steps in and says, “There must be a reason,” and immediately realizes that there can only be one reason for suffering, which is growth. That is, greater understanding and greater love.
As the poster at the office says: crisis brings opportunity. If the current global crisis has any meaning at all, it must represent an opportunity for human growth and transformation, an invitation to a higher order of being. Perhaps our species has subconsciously engineered its own initiation ordeal, or maybe Mother Earth, heavy with child, has begun her painful struggle to birth a more evolved expression of her self. In any case, the rite of passage is upon us, and it’s do or die.
To put it less starkly, it’s time to love it or lose it. For even if our crisis is not an expression of love, it certainly warrants—or at least invites—a response of love.
Sounds good, but what might that look like? Well, it might look like the largest and fastest-growing grass-roots ecological movement in history—a planetary immune response, as author Paul Hawken calls it. It might look like a string of democratic uprisings in the Arab world. It might look like 50,000 people in the middle of the Nevada desert, dancing, playing, laughing, crying, howling, humping, hugging and celebrating the unfathomable miracle of existence. And it might look exactly like you, with all your unique skills and talents, answering your true calling, following your bliss.
Perhaps, as The Man insists, doing what you love is a privilege. If so, it’s one that elicits a response-ability, now more than ever. Especially at this critical time, the Earth community is asking us to share our creative gifts, to display our true colors, to embody our highest ideals, to live our dharma, to heed our true vocation. And ultimately, the true vocation of every human being is love.
Love it or lose it. Love this unique, precious, life-bearing planet, and life itself. Love the unique, precious life that is yours. Love this unique, precious moment, brimming with unspeakable horror on one hand and unbridled hope on the other.
For my part, I’m taking the Middle Path. I’m keeping both the distinguished beard and the bright red hair.
Darrin Drda is a Bay Area artist and author whose book entitled The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times will be published under the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books on October 25, 2011.