What Remains

“Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out
How much music you can still make
With what you have left.”

–Itzhak Perlman

Over the years, I have noticed there are two main ways that we respond to loss and adversity, some days more one than the other.

I noticed these alternatives in the early 1990’s, when I began working with people who had MS or ALS. Of course, I couldn’t see into the hearts and minds of the people I visited, but it seemed that some retreated into themselves and no longer expected much satisfaction from the remainder of their days. And others didn’t let the fact that they now relied on a wheelchair or walker prevent them from living as fully as their changed circumstances allowed.

More recently, five years ago this April to be exact, I became a survivor of suicide and directly experienced how it feels when something you have counted on being there is taken away. While losing someone important doesn’t cause the physical and cognitive erosions that neuromuscular diseases do, it does drastically change how we view the future and our place in it.

With all forms of loss (physical, cognitive, emotional, grief for the suffering of our wounded Earth. . .), when we experience the shock of losing something on which our hope for the future had depended, we can feel ourselves being tossed on the horns of two possible futures:

1/ We can crumple into a lesser version of ourselves; affirming in our mind and heart that we have lost something on which our life and happiness depended; and from then on feel that we have been condemned to limp along half-heartedly until the finish line appears; or

2/ We may feel a need to remain engaged in life. We may even feel driven to understand who we are and why we are still here when so much around us is being swept away.

I heard Joanna Macy say something in an on-line discussion I viewed yesterday. When asked to say something about an “evolutionary leap of consciousness” that she sees occurring in parts of our world (the seed that could take human society into a different future than what we see falling away in our industrial extractive society), she said,

“We are our Earth, and we are our Earth becoming conscious of our true selves.”

I hear in this an invitation to remember who we truly are. We are not just individuals doing our best to carve out a meaningful place in a world that is sinking into oblivion. We are the world that we know is bearing so much unnecessary suffering. We are our world and it is the role of our true self to become conscious of the entire creation of which we are an integral component–just as the brain and heart are integral parts of our body. In proportion as we awaken to the fact that our natural purpose is to become the cosmos becoming self-conscious, we can awaken to our reason for being here on the Earth at this time. In our role as self-awareness of the whole, how can we keep destroying ourselves? Surely it is our task in this time to find the courage to honor and value what remains of our own greater being?

And what about those people whom I judge to be the active cause of the suffering of our world and of our fellow beings? Are those human beings the cosmos becoming conscious of itself?

One thing is gradually coming into focus for me, alongside the challenge of accepting that how I act makes a difference. When I judge others as being the ones who are responsible for the destruction of our land, our water and our air, I am judging myself. A realization keeps bobbing in and out of my mind: that I am no different than anyone around me. If I can dare to face the terrible momentum in which I find myself participating, like a cork helplessly bobbing in the current, then there is a chance that we all can accept some responsibility.

I’ve heard it said that about 5% of people are now working to create a sustainable human presence in our world; and that at 10% a shift can happen where people notice that a better future is possible and begin to join in. That feels so much more encouraging than feeling utterly helpless to stay the flood waters, quench the raging flames, clean the land of toxic chemicals, and reverse the mass extinctions. We’re half way there to the survival of the human race and the survival of the brethren species with whom we still share this beautiful planet.

2 comments to “What Remains”
  1. Thank you for this. Last evening I heard Van Jones say something about the effect that Navalny’s death. How it rippled out and touched anyone and everyone with in intact soul. He said it beautifully, but I don’t recall his exact words, just the feeling. And yes, I feel the hope, too, in this piece. Thank you.

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