In an effort to be of true service in my life, I spent years studying and trying to face the reality of potentially catastrophic global warming, astronomical species extinction rates, devastating economic inequality, deeply rooted racism and sexism, war, trauma, and so on, and it all scared the s— out of me, especially climate change. I tried to get us to talk about it, change our ways, and change the world, but almost no one wanted to touch this stuff with a ten-foot pole, so I began feeling resentful on top of everything else. But I stuck with it because… what’s the alternative?
It was confusing because there are some people out there like Derrick Jensen of Deep Green Resistance and Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain who put despair and fear on a kind of pedestal, and people have really flocked in that direction, but people weren’t responding so positively to me.
So I had to dig deep, do a lot of soul searching, and then finally something clicked.
I had heard it before. For example, I heard the famous, wise Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn say in a number of different ways that fear and anxiety were just more pollution. Somehow though the message finally got through during a talk I went to given by two other spiritual teachers, Andrew Harvey and Terry Patten.
Here’s what I took away. The power, intelligence, and creativity required to adequately respond to the crises we’re in will only come from a wildly bright place. It will not and cannot come from a place of doom and gloom, depression, and fear.
While it is healthy to acknowledge our afflictive emotions, we will only make the whole mess worse if we transmit them. There is even a label for this kind of attempt to make the world better – “reactivism.”
I am not advocating a path of fake or forced smiles here. I am sharing my observation that what is actually effective is a blend of traditional activism with what we could call spiritual fire.
The essence of the human spirit is not depressed. It’s alive, buoyant, profoundly loving, and strong. It is in this place of simply being our sacred selves that we unlock our genius and shine. It is here that we become the candle that can light a thousand candles. (I actually think we need a stronger metaphor in this day and age though. I think we need to spread like wildfire).
Why does communicating with spiritual fire work? Because when we are aligned – mind, body, and spirit – we are firing on all cylinders. We become fully functioning human beings. And in doing so, we invite others to fully function too.
So may we allow these existentially-threatening times to be our catalyst for becoming the extraordinary beings that we have the potential to become and growing into the extraordinary community that we have the potential to create. And may our inner flame light the local, state, national, and international fire that we need to create a harmonious, sustainable, truly humane world.