I’m trying to piece together a way of looking at our world that offers a path for me to participate in the healing of the natural systems that our species has come so close to completely destroying.
A number of books—such as “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and “The Great Work” by Thomas Berry– give testimony to the great harm that our extraction and consumption economy has inflicted on the web of life. These works not only expose the profound cost of our abuse of planetary resources, but illuminates a path of hope for the future.
I would like to believe that, in my own remaining time on Earth, I can live in harmony with the positive energy and caring strength evident in the movement called “The Great Turning”. I certainly don’t expect to live long enough to see the rising sea levels recede or old growth forests to once more become the healthy lungs of our planet. But I hope to see this Great Turning (and the restoration of sanity in the human species) gain a strong enough foothold that I can breathe a sigh of relief as the industrial complex begins to recede–like a tsunami in whose wake terrible damage is revealed, which a new generation will have to clean up.
I’m reading a book by the Dalai Lama (“A Call for Revolution”), which records talks in which he speaks directly to young people, in order to strengthen their recognition that their parents have failed and that it is up to them to restore wounded natural systems, in what he calls a “Revolution of Compassion”). The Dalai Lama makes it clear that our civilization has so utterly failed that the generation who caused this harm cannot fix it.
An element of the despair that can overcome us when we witness the collapse of natural life systems, is that the architects that caused this collapse are still in power. They have taken control of the legislatures and the courts and managed to create instruments of empowerment which allow corporations to continue the same extraction and waste disposal technologies that have turned once sparkling streams into cesspools; that have filled the oceans with masses of refuse, which weigh more than all the animal and floral life struggling to survive in their depths.
In the epilogue of this book, which compiles the Dalai Lama’s talks with young people, co-writer Sofia-Stril Rever provides some historical perspective on the ecological initiatives occurring internationally. In particular, I was struck by a few sentences that illuminate something I have been missing in how I think about my relationship with our suffering world. She writes:
“The ethos of the Revolution of Compassion resonated strongly in me because my thinking has been nourished by discussions with lawyers and lawmakers, initially during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference when I presented the Dalai Lama’s message about ecology. That collaboration resulted in a series of seminars entitled “Law and Consciousness, emphasizing the link between collective commitment based on law, and making a conscious individual commitment. The coming together of these two elements–a vital necessity, given the current environmental crisis—lies in the recognition of our multiple interdependence with the earth’s ecosystem and the need to take universal responsibility for it.”
This weaves together a vision of a new turning toward the web of life, which encourages us as individuals to make a commitment, but also adds awareness of another dimension: that of individuals linked together in a collective which establishes the power to incorporate what is recognized as having true value. This encoding of sanity into law will be necessary if we are to escape remaining entangled–like dolphins caught in discarded fishing nets and held underwater until they drown–in the global processes that are still causing immense harm.
Since we will no longer be here to witness what happens, it’s a challenge to even hope that this sanity will return to human affairs. But the Dalai Lama’s recognition that the fate of our earth rests in the hands of the generation just entering their adult, working lives, rings profoundly true. His efforts to encourage those young people to meet that awesome task is prescient. His vision of two necessary commitments can encourage the human heart to feel hope for the future. For those of us who are old, it provides a meaningful objective: to act in whatever ways can encourage those, who will still be here when we are not, to do their best to restore humanity to its true place: once more gratefully immersed within the web of life without which none of us alive today would have been given these lives to live.