Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Break Down or Break Through? Part Two

My last entry referred to an article on Brain Blog entitled, “Can This Economic Down Turn Lead to Better Psychosocial Health?,” an article that explores positive emerging trends which appear to be fueled by the daunting environmental, economic, and social crises we currently face. While the title may very well seem offensive at first, it ultimately offered the reader some semblance of hope.

In “The Waking Up Syndrome,” published in Hope Dance magazine by Sara Anne Edwards and Linda Buzzell, the authors outline a pattern of behavior that they believe often accompanies a crisis, and which they describe as, ‘the waking up syndrome.’ This process is broken down into six stages; (1) denial, (2) semi-consciousness, (3) the moment of realization, (4) a point of no return, (5) despair, guilt, hopelessness, powerlessness, and (6) acceptance, empowerment, action.

While each stage that Edwards and Buzzell describes is relevant (I was firmly planted in stage 5 for a very long time,) the final stage of this process is what I want to address here. According to the authors, it is here that we come to recognize that we no longer need to surrender to our “current and emerging reality.” Instead, we are liberated to “pursue what James Kunstler calls ‘the intelligent response,’ seeking and taking whatever creative, constructive action will best sustain those aspects of life that are truly most important to us in the context of the changes unfolding around us. At this point our curiosity and creativity kick in and we can begin following our natural instincts to find what is both feasible and rewarding to safeguard ourselves, our families, our communities and the planet.”

On the whole, I believe that very few of us feel the kind of empowerment and commitment that will be necessary to implement the sweeping and substantial changes that will be necessary to move us toward a more rewarding and sustainable way of life, however, portents of change and small beams of hope are shining everywhere. I witness them in the more insistent demand for alternative sources of energy, conservation, and simpler and ultimately more satisfying ways of living. Public radio announced recently that library visits are increasing, visits to farmers markets are on the rise, and there is a renewed interest in food coops, child coops, and car pooling. We are starting to throw away less, reuse more, and we have begun to convert city lots and back yards to gardens.

When I was writing BirthQuake in the late nineties, I was surrounded by a barrage of bad news about people, places, and even our planet in peril. Today it seems that the threats have amplified, the warning signs have multiplied, and the ominous march of fear and uncertainty has moved even closer to home. And yet, ten years later, while my concerns have deepened, I have also found more reasons to hope. Is it possible that so much of the suffering that I witness here in my country are not the signs of an ultimate break down but are instead the labor pains that will ultimately herald a break through.

Finding Your Power: Part One
Finding Your Power: Part Two
Finding Your Power: Part Three
Finding Your Power: Part Four
Finding Your Power: Part Five
Finding Your Power: Part Six
Finding Your Power: Part Seven
The Shift

Break Down or Break Through? Part One

In spite of the distractions provided by the upcoming election, the threats to our economy, our environment, and our families still trouble me deeply. I am unsettled by the rise in groceries, fuel, heating costs, and unemployment. I worry about the welfare of my more vulnerable brothers and sisters. I worry about future generations. I worry about the tremendous challenges that confront my daughter and her family. I worry a lot these days, and I still hope.

I read an entry on Brain Blogger recently that served to gently blow on the tired embers of my faith and my hope. It asked the question, “Can This Economic Down Turn Lead to Better Psychosocial Health?” The title immediately contradicted what I understood to be the mounting consequences of decreasing economic stability – increasing anxiety, depression, stress related illnesses, family and individual dysfunction and demoralization. Then I read the article and began the sluggish process of reclaiming what I have struggled for so long to nurture firmly in my core.

In the first chapter of the book I published in 2000, BirthQuake, I had written the following:

“This book is about a phenomenon that is presently challenging numerous members of my generation in particular. It’s about the ‘BirthQuakes’ that so many of us are struggling with and through. Where everything is rocked and shifted; where foundations crack, and treasures lie buried beneath the rubble…

Bill Moyers once observed that, ‘the largest party in America today isn’t the party of the democrats or the republicans, it’s the party of the wounded.’ I think he’s right, we’ve all been wounded. Wounded by the barrage of bad news, political scandals, traffic jams, jobs that so often feel futile, the signs that surround us of dying cultures, dying children, dying species, and even a dying earth. We may not think too much about it, and may even do a reasonably effective job of burying our heads in the details of our lives, but there’s really no escaping it for most of us. We feel it. We feel it a little bit every single day, and even though we generally manage to keep one step ahead of it, we sense sometimes that it just might be closing in.

The good news is that we’re not alone. Quakes are trembling everywhere. The bad news is that this also means that there are fewer places to hide. It’s not as simple as it was even a decade ago. Moving to the country won’t shield us. Believe me, I tried.
In 1992, over 1,600 scientists from around the world released a document entitled, “Warning to Humanity”. This warning stated, among other things, that human beings were on a collision course with nature and that we need to make significant changes now if we want to avoid profound human suffering in the future. Other rumblings of a global quake in addition to our environmental crisis can be felt all over the world. Felt in addictions, increasing levels of depression, crime, suicide, and so much more. I recognize that many of the concerns that I’ve mentioned have existed for centuries, however at no time in history has the world been at such universal risk. We’re coming closer every day to facing a crisis that every living organism on the entire planet faces. And at some level you already know that. Don’t you?
We’re all in this together. We’re each waging a battle with collective demons that threaten to become more and more personal. They’ve made it into your neighborhood, and into mine. Are you ready? I’m not, but I’m working on it. While I’m more than a little bit scared, I’m still tremendously hopeful.

A wise man who wishes only to be identified as “a brother along the way,” shared with me that, ‘it seems that our travails are often a preparatory path, helping to make us better instruments through which we may serve, especially during times of crisis, which the world is now entering – A BirthQuake of worldwide proportion.’

I wrote those words before September 11, 2001, before the war in Iraqi, before the crisis on Wall Street, before we were charged $4.00 per gallon of gas, and the rapidly escalating costs of groceries. I wrote them before the production of “An Inconvenient Truth,” before the renewed conflict with the former Soviet Union, and before the ravages wrought by the past eight years with Bush. And then, eventually, I surrendered to my sense of inadequacy and helplessness. Things only got worse.

I am now striving to embrace once again my (albeit sometimes shaky) belief that pain is often a pathway to possibility; that what wounds us also teaches us, and that what threatens us also calls us to action.