Friday, August 3, 2007

Coming Out of Denial and Giving Up Hope

Trying to face the fact that things aren't going to get better, that our futures are, as (Chickasaw poet) Linda Hogan puts it, "being killed," that we can no longer escape the devastating effects of ecosystem overload, that civilization has indeed entered its endgame, that we are perilously close to complete breakdown whether by natural or human causes and are running out of energy, money, time, land (this week Russia planted its flag on the Arctic Ocean floor!)--these realizations have shaken me to the core. Once the promise of a better tomorrow is removed, how in God's earth do we meet such a moment? How do we go on living?

I like what my eternal spiritual guide, the I Ching (Chinese Book of Oracles) says:
Economize. Simplify. Don't try to continue the pretense of more opulent times.

I like thinking about those small bands of Eskimos so beautifully described by Gretel Ehrlich in one of her books: how, even when starving, they laugh and enjoy life; I like thinking about the way poet Nikki Giovanni once described Rosa Parks, as having "no startle." I like thinking about the Dalai Lama's advice about friendship: If you have many friends, that is wonderful. But if you don't, that is fine too.

The forces at play in these observations put my feelings of alarm in perspective.
When it comes to life, don't expect tenure.

Be not fazed. We don't give up our cherished goals lightly, especially when they are bulwarks against depression. Don't lose heart. Never slide into weakness, resignation, or decline. Never drop the ball. And don't bail out. Swim in the rapids.

We could learn to be happy over long periods of time with almost nothing, instead of striving for something, going somewhere, needing something. We could accept humbly going on because it is the right thing to do, and because humbly going on is its own form of happiness. We could enter, as Michael Ortiz suggests in "Dreaming the End of the World," into the Apocalyptic mysteries and look seriously and hard at the realities of the times, which is a "gift" to the community.

Coming out of denial and taking off the blinders means accepting that things will not be okay, that this is the way it is, beyond all the workshops, books, lectures, arts, therapies--all the palliative constructs--and living instead without hope. But how do we live without hope?
What question lies at the heart of your work? I ask only because this is the one that now lies at the heart of mine.

Derrick Jensen describes in "Endgame" how he is always being exhorted by editors to leave his readers with a sense of hope, because otherwise we open the spigots to despair. But being a full-disclosure sorta guy, Jensen has only imperial disdain for that kind of advice. Despair, he claims, is an entirely appropriate response to a desperate situation--though not an excuse for inaction. Besides, he says, it's possible to feel many things at the same time: rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness.

"A wonderful thing happens," he writes in "Endgame," "when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn't kill you, nor did it make you less effective."
I've tried it, and it really works.


Anonymous said...

A Lao Tzu passage I've been using in meditation says: Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as empty as fear. Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of self.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the next book is: 'Has Postmodernism Failed?'