Remembering What It Is to Laugh: The Importance of Good, Honest Conversations

Being together this Thanksgiving with good friends reminded me of the importance of friendship, honest conversations, and laughter. It led to a powerful discussion about our fright and despair over climate change and new COVID variants⎼ and over our need to act politically to save democracy and our world. But I can’t say we totally agreed.

 

Many other people showed up in the discussion. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, novelist Ben Okri, Buddhist teacher and author David Loy, environmentalists Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken, Gandhi, John Lewis, George Floyd, and others.

 

Michelle Goldberg wrote an opinion piece in the NYT on 11/22 called The Problem of Political Despair. She said “marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror.” She writes about obvious GOP efforts to undermine voting rights and end democracy, to lie and attack anyone who opposes their efforts at tyranny or who support anything that might make Democrats or democracy look good.

 

It’s natural, she says, that democrats pull back, take a break, after such a contentious election, the traumatic previous 4 years of DJT and almost 2 years of a pandemic. But there’s more going on. A burn-out, a sense that the relief from autocracy or tyranny that we now have is just temporary. We cannot assume that things will one day become ok. Things are not ok. And she worries that progressives and others will retreat from active participation in the fight for democracy.

 

In our discussion, I shared what I wrote in previous blogs about Joanna Macy and Paul Hawken’s  books, about the despair over the inability, so far, of this nation and our species to do what’s needed to slow down, or end global warming. To end global warming would mean each of us helping not only to save our world but convince others about what is needed to do so. This is not an exaggeration, not a doomsday fantasy, just reality.

 

Hawken said we need to digest the fact that passing voting rights protections, improving health care, promoting equity in law, education, and the economy, ending warfare is saving the earth. We must get Democrats to pass legislation that makes people’s lives better so the mass of people will support efforts to increase democracy and fight climate change.

 

Buddhist teacher David Loy introduced me to the writing of both Joanna Macy and Ben Okri. Okri recently wrote a piece for the Guardian about the need to find new forms of creativity and imagination to face the crisis we are in. He called for “existential creativity”, creativity at the end of time. We are facing the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, and we must adjust our philosophy and way of life to fit these times. Artists must not waste a single breath or word or tube of paint but focus their work entirely on making people aware of what we face and of actions we can take.

 

We are not wired to grasp long-term changes and threats as easily as short term ones. And many of us live so much in our ideas, stories, personal dramas we don’t feel present in our bodies or at home in the natural world and so don’t digest deeply enough the threat of climate change….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

The Mirror, and the Story We Tell About What We See in It

I didn’t want to write this blog, not at first. Writing would mean facing once again what is painful to face. But due to COVID and other factors, here I am.

 

Last week, I started reading Joanna Macy’s 30th Anniversary update of her book, World As Lover, World As Self that was published earlier this year. I think her book has been living inside me for years, but it is only now that I open it. I deeply appreciate the wisdom and practices shared in this book.

 

The book talks about the stories we tell ourselves about this moment we’re living. It reveals many aspects of our lives we might have ignored until COVID and a would-be dictator made them abundantly clear.

 

She uses the image of a mirror, the mirror wisdom of a Buddha which shows us everything just as it is, nothing added or subtracted. And this mirror teaches us how to, “…not look away. Do not avert your eyes. Do not turn aside.” By looking in this mirror we realize the anxiety and fear we feel is the surface layer of our grief for how much of the world is dying. By naming we heal. By looking away the world itself turns away.

 

By looking in the mirror, we tell and make real the story of how to survive and transform a great turning point in history. We discern the path to creating a life-sustaining society that understands in its marrow “we are all in this together.” By averting our eyes, we surrender; we tell and help create a story of unraveling and collapse.

 

We have been witnessing lately appalling contradictions. For example, nurses and other health care workers have been at the front lines of the fight against the COVID pandemic. They have been overworked, often under-equipped and under-paid, facing great stress and trauma. They also face an information or media environment filled with purposeful, politically motivated lies.

 

Many work in crowded nursing homes, or in hospitals where they see a disproportionate rate of suffering from the pandemic amongst Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Many are themselves people of color who have faced all their lives a system of racism.

 

So now many health care workers of whatever race do not want to take what could save their lives and protect their patients, because they believe or have been misled to believe they cannot trust it. So, when the state mandated that all health care workers be vaccinated, they declined, even as that led to them losing their jobs, and we losing their support.

 

Joanna Macy makes clear that we as a society have been ignoring or not seeing clearly how other, crowded work environments like meat-packing-plants are dangerous to workers, cruel to animals, and costly to the climate….

 

We have recognized but not faced directly enough the consequences of enormous, and growing, concentrations of wealth, made worse by the pandemic, and leading to the corporate undermining of democracy and the rule of law, undermining of public schooling, and the degradation of our natural world, the extinction of many species, and the warming of the planet

 

**To read the whole article, please go to the Good Men Project.