“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” —Mark Twain
NOTE: This is the final post for my Letting Go of a World in Collapse essay. Please find part one at this link and part two at this link. I’ve also created a downloadable pdf file of the entire essay that can be read in multi-page format.
Orcas and Mountain Rape
A few weeks ago, my partner and I witnessed two orcas and a number of sea lions swimming in a beautiful bay near our home. The distant snow capped mountains of Vancouver Island, along with clear sunny skies and a calm ocean created an arresting frame. Under “normal” circumstances, I would feel immense joy from this beautiful display of nature in action. Instead, I was heavy-hearted, irritated and angry. Interrupting this magnificent natural spectacle was a jarring sight: an ugly, loud, smelly, dirty, tanker ship making its way to a nearby private dock to be loaded with gravel and sand to be shipped to China.
For years, a local mountain range has been raped for profit. Sand, gravel, crushed stone, and concrete are the final products. Where majestic mountains once stood, there is now desecration: rusty scaffolding, an endless convoy of trucks and bulldozers, relentless dust and noise, and a merciless conveyor belt that runs to the loading dock where blood-soaked ‘resources’ are shipped to distant lands.
I miss nothing. The ocean and the tanker ship. The orcas and the mountain rape. Beauty and destruction. Life and death. There’s more however. I’m painfully aware of the precarious state of the ocean. This is the focal point for my premonitions. The ocean is dying and it’s happening fast. It is our link to life—the true lungs of the Earth. When the ocean collapses, it is the end of life on Earth. The terrifying reality is that ocean collapse is well underway. Mass fish die-offs. Mass sea bird die-offs. Mass sea turtle die-offs. Mass sea lion die-offs. Mass starfish die-offs. Mass whale die-offs. Mass coral bleaching. Devastating algae blooms. Rapacious overfishing. Relentless poaching. Dying mangroves. Endless oil spills. Offshore oil drilling. Plastic pollution. Chemical pollution. Noise pollution. Boat pollution. Warming, rising, dead zones, deoxygenation, acidification. It’s bad. Really, really, really bad.
There’s a bittersweet quality to witnessing life in a dying, polluted ocean. With mountain rape added to the picture, it becomes that much more painful.
The experience with the orcas and the mountain rape struck a deep chord in me. It was pivotal to where I’m at today. It was the catalyzing experience that peeled back the curtain on my own denial. It implored me to look more deeply at where we really stand within the collapsing story of human separation. It forced me to finally realize the severity of my premonitions.
On May 16, 2016, my partner sent to me this email:
I saw a dying sea lion in Davis Bay on my way to work. I stopped to watch her for 10 minutes, one flipper was up in the air the entire time and she would come up for a breath every minute or so and it looked like a real struggle. There was nothing I could do but talk to her and send her love and apologize for what humans have done. My heart is so heavy. It hurts so much. I wish we were just killing our own species—why do we have to take everyone else with us.
I read this message and began sobbing—from the depths of my soul. My heart—so very, very heavy. I spent most of the morning in tears. My premonitions are coming true much faster than imagined. There has also been recent news of red tides along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. The blood is soaking my front yard and it’s spreading quickly.
To be honest, some degree of this dire reality has informed and motivated my lifetime of animal and environmental activism. The difference now is that I no longer believe there is time to shift human consciousness. With our prolific breeding prowess, our voracious hunger for destruction, our penchant for ignorance, narcissism, indifference and denial, our addiction to distraction, and our absolute refusal to change, it’s over.
I often feel like I’m the only one on the planet who sees and feels it all. The masses see the orcas. I see the orcas and the mountain rape and the dying ocean. The masses see the bacon sandwich. I see the bacon sandwich and the terrified, screaming, blood-soaked pigs. The masses see the cheese omelette. I see the cheese omelette and the imprisoned, grieving dairy cows, the discarded by-product baby calves, the exhausted, sickly chickens, and the violation of the feminine through the consumption of the maternal secretions and ovulations of brutalized female living beings. The masses see the shiny white paper, I see the shiny white paper and the chemical pollution, the corporate greed, and the clearcut forests. The masses see ‘normal’. I see insanity.
I feel like I’m part of a tiny minority who knows that the Earth is round and alive in a collective that remains steadfast in their belief that the world is flat and inanimate. It’s a lonely place to stand.
As our neighbors mindlessly power wash their driveways with the very real potential for a more aggressive drought this summer, and they casually flip their bacon cheeseburgers while flippantly chatting about which trees to cut down on their property because they take too much water from their pesticide-laden lawns, I grieve for the Earth and the animals. For my entire life I’ve tried to make sense of it all. What caused us to sever our relationship with the natural world and animals so that we feel such an arrogant sense of entitlement that serves only to perpetuate their ongoing destruction? Why, why, why?
When we love the Earth, we are the Earth. We refuse the blinders that prevent us from feeling and seeing it all. We hold the beauty and the destruction; the love and the grief— together. When we love something or someone that is unwell, we don’t turn away, because our love unites us in deeper ways. Essentially, it is only when we fall deeply in love with the Earth—and our own souls—that we will end our destructive ways.
When I look back on my life, I clearly see how I’ve been skirting the edges of this conversation since childhood. My innocent young mind could never understand why humans were so cruel and indifferent toward animals, the Earth and each other. I never understood why kindness, compassion and caring were so fleeting, fragmented and compartmentalized. It confused me then. It pained me as I became more aware.
As I grew older, I’d impulsively blurt out deeper aspects of this conversation to anyone willing to listen, but my intolerance for the willful ignorance of the denial-infected masses triggered my pain. I’d flare up, consumed with anger and despair—railing against the system with my rage-filled activism—only to cause more of what I wanted to see the end of—separation. It was exhausting.
Eventually I realized that resistance begets greater resistance. I realized that changing a deeply entrenched culturally conditioned worldview was akin to flying without wings. It just isn’t possible. On the other hand, inspiring a return to truth, love and wholeness sparked a remembrance—a unity and a willingness to listen—and potentially awaken. I knew that I’d found my calling. I hoped that it wasn’t too late, but deep in my heart I knew the odds were always stacked against me.
I’ve since let go of all defenses (including hope—especially hope), and my heart has been freed to speak without interference. The message has come through loud and clear and I’ve accepted my role as a pioneering member of the planetary hospice movement. The essence of my work remains the same: living with passion, purpose, love, compassion, presence, activation, kindness, and grace. What differs now is the “why”. Before, my work was to inspire the creation of a new world story based on who we’ve always been meant to be. Now, my work is to inspire leaving the world as who we’ve always been meant to be. It’s about going big and going home and living fully right now.
This essay has taken me more than six weeks to write. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been healing. I’ve moved through the inertia of my own denial, grief, sadness, despair, and anger to finally reach a place of acceptance.
As I’ve been writing and healing, my love for the Earth has deepened, yet at the same time I’ve been feeling an increased detachment from the physical world. Not in an apathetic or indifferent way, but in a way that reminds me of the times in my life when faced with the looming transition of a loved one—that liberating moment when acceptance finally brings peace to my heart. It’s a sacred time. Heartbreaking and beautiful. Sad and tender. It’s a special time that reminds me of both the beauty and frailty of life.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Unlike the mainstream interpretation of her important body of work, the five stages of grief are organic, non-linear, and don’t always appear as defined. In the processing of my own grief, I realized that hope was my way of bargaining. The energies of anger, sadness, frustration, joy, awe, and acceptance move through me like breezes, gusts, tornadoes … and then stillness. Until it starts up again. I knew nothing of my own denial until I stopped hoping. In giving up on hope, I reached acceptance. With acceptance, I’ve touched my essence, and my grief has morphed into activated presence.
This has brought up a number of important questions such as: “Who do I choose to be in the face of collapse?”, “How do I choose to live in a dying world?”, “What does it look like to live fully, purposefully and lovingly in a world in collapse?”, “How do I choose to live my life in the face of uncertainty?”, “How do I find beauty and joy in a collapsing world?”
With repeated consistency, there’s only one word that comes to me: Love. Love is the answer—the salve for every wound—the force that inspires courage, creativity, purpose, trust, joy, acceptance and activated presence.
Activated presence is a radical paradigm shift in a distracted and indifferent world. It’s about engagement, tenderness, passion, being, doing, laughter, tears, and noticing the absolute sacredness in the smallest moments.
It’s about deepening connections with like-hearted community. It’s about unapologetically feeling the depths of grief and despair and emerging with salty tears, snot, and grace. It’s about being comfortable in the uncertainty of collapse without collapsing in it. It’s about doing what I love and being the change in the face of devastation. It’s about living more fully and loving harder than ever before. It’s about asking my heart what really matters, and listening deeply. And it’s about living on the razors edge of knowing how dire our planetary situation is, while remembering intimately, viscerally, deeply, the profound sacredness of life.
Activated presence is an embodied awakening to my deepest essential nature—my primal, unconditioned, undomesticated, deeply connected, wild animal soul-Self.
It’s one thing to fight for the rights of animals and the Earth to be free from the blight of humanity’s separation. It’s something quite different to feel myself inextricably connected to all life within every cell of my being. This shift has helped me realize that I’m not being called upon to save the Earth, because saving only implies superiority. Instead, I’m being called upon to activate my love, and as Ram Dass says, “Be love now”. To me this means, be love in action. Being love in action frees me from the burden of hope and the pain of attachment to specific outcomes and empowers me to act right now for right now.
As Carolyn Baker writes in her book, Dark Gold, “What if instead of acting on the basis of hope, we act because we feel drawn to a particular cause, knowing that it is the right thing to do or because we feel unable to do otherwise? What if our passion alone and the satisfaction we receive in taking action compels us to persevere? What if we knew with certainty that our efforts would make absolutely no difference long-term, but we felt we could not do otherwise? What if we act for the sake of acting?”
In the expanse of our deepest humanity, we unite with our core spiritual essence—and with each other.
In her book, Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy writes, “The deteriorating conditions of our world and the plight of other beings impinge on us all. We are in this together. Never before have our destinies been so intertwined. The fact that our fate is a common fate has tremendous implications. It means that in facing it together openly and humbly, we rediscover our interconnectedness in the web of life. From that rediscovery springs courage, a deeper sense of community, and insights into our power and creativity.”
This is activated presence.
The dire state of the world and the subsequent uncertainty is calling us out on our greatness and our smallness. Crisis can bring out who we truly are.
For the longest time, I wanted to be sure about how it would all end. I was afraid to be unsure. I was afraid of what could or would play out in the uncertainty. I wanted to be able to say with conviction, “It’s going to be ok.” But I’ve since realized that this helps nobody. First of all, nobody knows. More importantly though, even if we can be convinced that everything will be ok, would that evoke from us our deepest love, compassion, courage and greatness? Would that inspire our activated presence?
By teetering on the precipice of uncertainty, we come alive to our truest power. This is when we step into our deepest love for the world and experience life from a place of activated presence. With this profound internal connection, it no longer matters that there are no guarantees for a happy ending. Let’s face it, there are no guarantees for happy endings in any aspect of life. There are no guarantees when we fall in love that the relationship will last. There are no guarantees when we take on a job that it will provide happiness and security. There are no guarantees for health despite how clean our lives may be. There are no guarantees for ample sun and rain to bring us a bumper garden crop. Other than death, there are no guarantees for anyone or anything. Uncertainty is the nature of life, and by stepping into it, we step into radical, activated presence. Embracing uncertainty connects us with the soul of who we are—the part of us who lives for the present moment and could give a damn about tomorrow. Uncertainty activates life, love and truth.
In a recent meditation, I asked the Earth what she needed from me. The answer was immediate, “Be yourself.” I sobbed. So loving. So simple.
Every night before I go to bed, I sit under the stars with my canine soulmate, Francis. I breathe deeply into my heart, taking in the immensity of the sky, listening closely to what she has to say. Remembering the stardust that I’m made of. I close my eyes and see the Earth. She weeps. I weep. I wrap my arms around her, offering the only solace I know. I give myself fully to her—the only gift I know. It rarely feels like enough, yet she makes it clear to me that in standing in the truth of who I am, I am more than enough.
Gaia may bat last, but when she does, we realize whose been in charge all along. With or without us, she will prevail. I choose to give myself fully to her, regardless of outcome.
As Joanna Macy says in the documentary, Planetary, “What instantly touches the heart-mind—and it’s sudden and you can count on it—is the kiss of the Universe when you glimpse its beauty. It strips you of all your explanations and all your notions of who and what you want to be as an achieving individual. And you’re struck with such a gladness at that beauty and the originality of life that you don’t have time to think about “how is it going to turn out?” All you know is that you will serve it to the last breath.”
I end with this offering: Activate your presence. Live for moments, not for wishes, dreams or future outcomes. Savor the moments that lift you, bring joy to your heart and fill your life with meaning. Let go of hope, embrace your tears and love like never before. Choose to be extraordinary in ordinary moments and do what feeds your heart. Do what you love. Not for recognition, riches or fame, but for no other reason than because that is who you are. Even if it seems pointless in a sea of disconnect, never, ever stop loving the Earth. For the love of your soul, be fiercely committed to your truest self and choose gratitude for every sacred breath of life. I guarantee that no matter how it all plays out in the end, you will not regret it.
Perhaps this is the miracle we’ve needed all along.