Stoking a Fresh Fire

I was on the Olympic coast last weekend with friends – something we do on the first weekend of every new year. The weather was gloriously wild and gnarly, as it usually is in January, just the way we like it. Big surf, strong winds, big tides, and a primal, ragged, rain-soaked coast taken straight from a Chinese scroll. Gathered around an "inner fire", pelted by blasts of salt wind, and fallen out of time into an immense landscape, we felt small and huge at the same time.

What a terrific way to enter the year. I found myself reflecting on the three years that have passed since I ended my Circumference of Home experiment in 2008. Though I embarked on that journey as a solo adventure, it has pulled me deeper into community every step of the way. My desire to keep sharing the adventure with others only stokes  my commitment to stay on the path myself.

I have written very little since publishing The Circumference of Home in 2010. Instead, I have given myself over to sharing the fruits of that journey through readings, talks and workshops throughout the Northwest, and on both coasts. Sometimes it is good to step back from too many words, and simply live into a new phase of one’s life as directly as possible. The last two years have felt like that for me. In future posts I will talk about my efforts to sustain these changes, and to build on my investment in local community. I have continued to learn and grow into this challenge, and there is much brewing in my heart that is seeking expression. I feel ready to put pen to paper again, and at the same time to embark on a more communal phase of my journey. There is so much we can do together that we can't do alone.

To begin with, there are the facts on the ground, three years later. The climate crisis that launched me on this journey in the first place has accelerated much faster than climatologists had predicted when I began my year.  2011 unleashed climate catastrophes of unprecedented ferocity all over the globe. From heat waves and droughts to wild fires, monster tornadoes, and mega-floods, some of these events have devastated whole nations.

Remarkably, in the face of this, climate denial in the U.S. has increased from 47% to 57% over the past two years, and media climate coverage tumbled another 20% this year over 2010. It is hard not to be deeply discouraged by this.

But there are other ways to hold the conundrum. Some compassion may be called for. From a psychological point of view, this wave of denial is understandable. Fear is a powerful force in the human psyche, and its power grows in proportion to the size of the threat it perceives. All of us know fears, and it is human to take refuge in denial when our fear overwhelms us. We all do that to some degree, even though the effect of this denial is often to strengthen the threat itself. I happen to think there is great opportunity always in moments of intense disequilibrium. The tension between perception and reality, human desire and natural limits, is inevitably a great teacher, if we are willing to listen, and act on what we discover.

The good news is that we are not powerless to respond. A great many people are stepping up to the climate challenge with extraordinary courage, flare and creativity, mostly beneath the radar of mainstream media attention. I am actually less discouraged all the time. I feel less alone, less marginalized, and more supported in my own personal efforts to enact change as I link up with others who are choosing to embrace this new reality as an adventure rather than an ordeal. I have been continually struck by the power of simple actions to dispel the illusion of helplessness – each and every time I choose to “occupy my bike” or take a bus rather than drive, each time I make the effort to prepare nourishing local food with friends and loved ones, each time I push out the boundaries of personal habits or unquestioned assumptions, I discover that it is not as hard as I expected. Each choice to act in alignment with my values, and to join with others in doing so, is an antidote to despair. It is this lived intention, one day and hour at a time, that helps charge the inner fires of personal capacity and resolve.

What I want to explore in this blog is the resilience that grows out of simple actions for the common good, especially when such actions are taken in common with others. A painful tension sets into the heart when we know what our times call for, and then act as if we do not know. Such a tension can grow over time into a malaise of the spirit. This kind of self-imposed paralysis invariably lands us in despair.

The only resolution I’ve found to that tension is to act, as best I can, in congruence with what I know to be true, and to remain undaunted in my resolve, whether I achieve the results I hoped for or not. No one knows what the future has in store for us, or whether our actions will be enough to turn the tide. But we do know that we are all in this one together, that we share a common destiny that will turn on our shared resolve. My own experience tells me there is plenty of joy and solidarity in the effort itself, in the desire to give ourselves wholeheartedly to acts of healing, wherever we may find ourselves. More than ever, that is the direction I plan to take in 2012. Won't you join me?