The most notorious year of the early 21st century is well upon us, and with it comes a potent mixture of fear, hope and expectation.
Whether or not one takes seriously the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar or the prophecies of other indigenous cultures, it’s hard to avoid being swept up by the Zeitgeist and the prevailing feeling that something significant, if not monumental, is about to go down on planet earth.
As many people know, something of literally earth-shattering importance is already well underway. Buddhist eco-philosopher Joanna Macy calls it the Great Unraveling: a perfectly horrific storm of interrelated environmental crises threatening to tear apart the very fabric of life.
The sobering statistics, well known to the concerned global citizen, need not be reiterated here. Instead, I offer a partial list:
–Climate change (yes, it’s as real as the well-oiled campaign to convince you that it’s not)
–Mass extinction (the 6th on planet earth, and it too is anthropogenic)
–Pollution (we now have eight continents, counting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)
–Dwindling water and oil (like addicts, we’re desperately scraping the bottom of the barrel in Alberta)
–Overconsumption (we’ve been in overshoot since 1980)
–Overpopulation (which, like overconsumption, is also a driving force).
This is to say nothing of the economic meltdown (closely related to the ecological, not just etymologically) or the crumbling edifices of education, health care, criminal justice, and many other areas of human endeavor.
Indeed, the world as we know does seem to be coming to an end. But here’s the good news: the world as we know it is coming to an end.
The Great Unraveling finds its counterpart in The Great Turning: a revolution of the global heart-mind, away from its obsession with industrial growth, toward a devotion to a life-sustaining ethos.
Macy sees it happening in the three distinct but mutually supportive areas: (1) holding actions or activism (currently exemplified by the Occupy movement), (2) new infrastructures (think farmer’s markets, local currencies, Transition Towns, solar power, etc.), and finally (3) a new form of consciousness (which, to oversimplify, emphasizes cooperation over competition, interdependence over autonomy, and evolutionary unfolding over predetermined order).
Combined, the activities in these three arenas add up to nothing less than the largest mass movement in history; a global, grassroots awakening that author Paul Hawken likens to a planetary immune response system, the efficacy of which depends on its diversity.
In the midst of global gloom, and often because of it, people are indeed waking up in ever-increasing numbers. But as awareness grows, so do the challenges we face, leading to the large and looming question of our crucial planetary moment: Will the Great Turning prevail over the Great Unraveling?
Although both breakdown and breakthrough are already well underway, they seem to be engaged in an increasingly tense and dramatic showdown, with great psychological tension (and attention) revolving around the aforementioned 2012 meme.
On one side of the spectrum are those who insist that Mother Earth is due for a physical makeover of biblical proportions, as movies like 2012 want to depict in computer graphic detail.
The planet will be wracked by epic earthquakes and tsunamis, major cities will be reduced to rubble, and millions if not billions of Earth’s creatures will perish suddenly and violently (rather than simply steadily and silently). This, or a similar scenario, is inevitable, says the cataclysm camp, whose conviction is often rooted in religious ideology.
As powerless pawns in God’s game, the reasoning goes, we mortals can merely pray that we be spared the worst of the smiting and perhaps be granted a seat aboard the Fathership.
On the other extreme are those who feel equally certain that a sudden, seismic shift is indeed imminent, but that it will be metaphysical rather than physical in nature. In a cosmic flash, humanity will awaken en masse to a New Age of planetary compassion, universal love, and divine unity. This, or a similar scenario, is written in the stars, say the enlightenment crowd, who recommend that everyone just relax, sit tight, and bear in mind that earthly existence is merely an illusion that will soon dissipate like so much incense smoke.
Of course these are crude caricatures, meant to describe not distinct groups or individuals as much as deep-seated psychological tendencies towards either dark-hearted pessimism or simple-minded optimism.
Given the precariousness of our situation, it’s natural to vacillate between these two extremes, and dangerous to become captivated by either one. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of the mind, waiting to lull us into complacency and false security, divest us of personal power, and absolve us of responsibility.
Although they speak different languages, both tell the same story: the fate of life on Earth will be determined by forces beyond humanity’s control.
This idea strikes me as a very toxic one, certain to accelerate our collective journey down the road to ruin. If the future is in some way predestined for either ultimate good or bad, then striving towards a healthier world is basically pointless.
What’s more, this stance doesn’t jive with the powerful and paradigm-shifting insight of 20th century science that reality is participatory. We are not, as the old guard preaches, feeble and passive observers of a fixed, objective order or cogs in a giant, lifeless machine. Nor are we, as the new guard intones, the all-powerful masters of our own destiny, capable of instantly manifesting our desires out of pixie dust and wishful thinking. We are co-creative participants in a great cosmic adventure, the outcome of which must always remain unknown.
So let us embrace the uncertainty of our times. It is not a burden of which we need to rid ourselves, but rather a blessing that evokes our creativity, enlivens our spirit, and draws forth our unique gifts.
Uncertainty is itself a gift that gives our lives meaning.
In fact, as author David Ulansey says:
“Given the magnitude of the crises we face, we who are alive today have the opportunity to live the most meaningful human lives that have ever been lived.”
May we all take these words to heart, so that this epic evolutionary adventure may continue.
Edited by: Hayley Samuelson.
Darrin Drda is an artist, musician, and author of The Four Global Truths; Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times. On Saturday, May 6, he will be speaking with Buddhist eco-philosopher Joanna Macy about uncertainty, active hope, The Great Turning, and other important topics as part of an online course entitled “Awakening the Global Heart-Mind.”