A doe snaps her head up, as I raise a blind in the front window. Quicker than thought, she whirls and scampers for the forest a few dozen feet away. Lushly green, it swallows her in shadow and safety. I turn to start a kettle of water for tea.
Stepping from the porch a few minutes later, the smell of clean salt air joins cedar, salal, and blackberry in my nose. Down the driveway alongside a bit of wetland, then down the gravel road to the path that drops over the rocks to the sea, it’s a short three blocks.
Surrounded by Oswald West State Forest, my little house joins a few other dwellings in a semi-private paradise. Well, it used to be semi-private until a few years ago. Now you can find it pretty easily by placing your cursor over the area on a map and seeing the image of a short-term rental’s incorporated name.
The commodification of practically everything proceeds. What had been a gift of nature, an expression of beauty, has been packaged and sold to a stream of consumers with undeveloped sense of place and people. Drunks with bottle rockets appear with a sense of entitlement to turn the night into a created war zone for their amusement.
The wildlife and I don’t think that’s such a great idea. I call the Sheriff’s deputy to come and talk to the miscreants, but the eagles now make their nest inland, away from the ocean’s edge.
As we humans grow in numbers and impact, what do I notice? The fishers tell me the ocean is warming and acidifying. This was a warm summer on the north coast of Oregon, lots of blue skies and warmer weather. Not the uncomfortably hot sweltering of the Willamette Valley, but nicely warmer than our usual. People flocked here, like seagulls clustering and squawking over a bit of space or fresh food.
In the rivers and creeks, fish died. Lots of fish died. Meanwhile, money flowed into cash registers and bank accounts of local merchants as the roads and sidewalks and stores and restaurants and beaches and parks and campsites filled. Winners and losers, as in any competitive game.
How long can we do this, continue these trends? We’re in the midst of the sixth great species extinction. Extinction means gone, never to reappear. We’re in the midst of global climate change. Scientific data reflecting that are refuted by advertising, paid by people running corporations. They’re making money from fuels that make them rich while we join them in destroying our planet and everything in it and on it. Chew on that one for a minute.
What’s a thinking or caring person to do? As my rascal grandpa would say, “It just beats the hell out of me.” I don’t want to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Neither do I want to demonize human beings or systems. Hating and making war is what got us here.
How, as one friend puts it, do we dream a new world into being? How do we create an economy based on collaboration, rather than exploitation of human and natural resources? How do we come to trust ourselves and each other in order to wake up to the reality of the trends we live in?
If we’re too terrified to slow down, we can’t allow ourselves to notice. What then gives us courage? What gives us faith? What provides access to a transcendent and benevolent reality? Here in this place, over the past decade or two, some answers emerge from the fog of fear that drove me here.
Listening to the small, still voice within helps. If I’m listening to people selling me something, I can’t hear it. So I gave up TV and began listening to my own programming. Some of it was pretty scary stuff. “How will I survive?” I screeched silently to myself.
“I’m gonna die!” I hollered inside my head, as I gave up a steady job and a steady relationship. “What’ll happen when I don’t have. . .” Fill in the blank with whatever provides you with the illusion of security. Maybe you too have inklings in the middle of the night sometimes, those unsettling realities lurking in your subconscious awareness.
As George Carlin told us, “The game is rigged. You’re gonna lose.” OK. If that’s true, how do we create a game that works differently? Surely we can create a game of life based on love, not fear. Crawling out of our critter brain, up the evolutionary scale into our frontal cortex gives us a chance.
How can we choose more joyful and powerful options, given that the reality is we evolve or die? Are we too stupid to live, or can we settle down and engage in a more satisfying future?
We humans are hard-wired to avoid suffering. We’ve survived by quick-fast lurching away from discomfort and toward whatever feels more promising. That mode of survival has taken us from caves and trees into civilized accommodations. Now what?
Counterintuitively, we can turn to face our suffering. Shutting off electronic devices of any and every sort is the essential first step. Sitting, walking, or running in external silence comes next. Listening to internal noise follows.
Then, baby-step into something courageous that scares you. Give up something you think you can’t do without and see what happens. Notice your mind chatter. Now laugh at it.
That’s right. We humans are meaning-making machines, as the saying goes. Make up a meaning to empower yourself to have the courage to doubt your own meanings. Find ways to do kindness that doesn’t directly benefit you. Any little thing will do; just begin.
Notice that sweet, fuzzy little tickle inside your chest. It feels good to be a good person. If you don’t feel it, keep practicing until you do. Your heart’s coming alive.
Get guidance from friends and trusted authorities to guide you. You don’t trust authority? Get over yourself. Whatever in the world made you think you have to know everything? Whatever made you think you’re in this all alone? That’s an illusion perpetrated to get you to buy more stuff to make up for the hole in your soul.
We are hard-wired to need each other, to function in relationships and communities. It takes courage, skill, and practice to do it, but it’s the only game in town that will save us. Let’s play it together, with humor and grace.
Uncle Mike Burgess might think we’re stepping into the universe of quantum mechanics from our old world of Newtonian physics. He might be laughing and rolling another cigarette as his fedora dips and bobs. I like to think so.