When I am awake, I see us all as one being, one pluriform dream of the earth who is herself one traveling warm teardrop of the universe watering the black soil of void so it can sprout flowering imagination to tickle the face of eternity into the stellar laughter through which tomorrow leaks.
Because I see us this way I know these great currents of life passing through me are passing through everyone else too. We are grains of sand, time is wind, world is dunes. We are waves, time is moon, world is ocean.
It’s this seeing that makes me know my experience, my suffering, my healing are never separate from yours. What lives inside me is at once both wildly its own and indistinguishable from your wild own within.
Since I see this, I offer some of what is going on inside me as I try to keep waking up into what can seem like a nightmare and I offer some of what helps me to stay. I do this in hopes it can serve all of you as my great family and hopes you will share what helps you stay awake, too – because I know in this time of exponentially multiplying distractions, we need to once and all finally decide to commit to staying as awake as we can. To do this, we need help.
Throughout my life I’ve developed the capacity to see in systems – and, I’ve learned that seeing in systems, by itself, can be a deeply painful path.
When offered the most precious gift of food: I often see in the food the fields, the tractors, the workers, the beings the land held before the land made my food, the future beings who will try to ask food from the land, the changing weather the growing of the land contributes to, the priest farmer plant breeders long forgotten by time, the thoughts in the heads of the farmers, the transportation infrastructure, the grocery store, the connection to wall street, the trillions of electronically traded dollars, empire, the military industrial complex, refugees, the rapidly collapsing governmental systems – and so on. This is all in my food.
Sometimes systems thinking is the kind of thing that can make one feel pretty sick.
Put differently, and because a feeling isn’t just ours, it can make one aware of a very deep sickness below the surface.
This awareness for me ever since I started to consciously develop it in middle school (not coincidentally, the time of most feeling like I and everything around me was completely wrong) mostly just kept growing in the background. The number of things I could innocently enjoy continued to drop each season. I gave up a lot. In things I didn’t give up, I still always saw the sickness.
When I saw a city, I saw wealth inequality, gentrification, concrete, pollution, alienation, economic dependence on employment from extractive corporations, addiction to technology. When I saw the country, I saw farming practices that are destroying the soil, the collapse of small farms into big farming businesses, gmo crops, wells going dry, habitat being lost, animals being lost. When I saw the ocean, I saw the rapid extinction of all coral reefs.
When I saw people, I saw everything we knew about deep down but didn’t know how to talk about and so we mostly weren’t talking about it. Everywhere I looked, I saw loss.
More and more of are waking up to this kind of deep awareness of the loss underneath all modern things. When it happens, we suddenly come, completely unprepared by our educations, to a decision point that no one tells us we have come to. It is a taboo to speak of it, yet it is as real as a fork in the road. It is this:
Do we go back to sleep, a little or a lot, because of how bad this awareness hurts? or do we deepen further into the long learning of the ways required to stay awake?
Going back to sleep is subtly orchestrated and endlessly celebrated. Pharmaceuticals, blockbusters, social media, tv, gadgets, empty food, alcohol, drugs, news, netflix binging, video games, empty sex, politics, online shopping – and the addictions of bitterness, forced positive thinking, self-judgement, resentment, regret, envy.
We can fill a life this way so easily and seamlessly. We can keep hitting snooze on our soul’s alarm – and if we don’t get help, I think there’s little other choice. Staying awake is a communal activity.
Sometimes community is people. Sometimes it is the earth, the animals, the plants, the wind, the rivers, the stars, and the songs. Either way, it is completely and utterly necessary to stay with the awareness of the world right now.
Here is where I am right now: I am 35, sitting in a cafe writing after a night of wondering if the ice crystal canopies of the trees above our yome were going to fall through the thin stretched roof, a week into a slow great re-membering of love, a re-opening of my heart.
All at once, the background awareness of how much my own speech was becoming bitter, harsh, cynical, judgemental, hopeless, came to the fore. It came in a crisis where we cut a sweetgum tree that like an omen went the opposite way I thought it would and then soon after I fell into an argument that almost crushed my marriage. When that moment passed, a dawn began to rise within my soul.
For months I’d been feeling the pain of the world so acutely learning each day of something so painful it would be reason enough to reorient my entire life to love – but instead of that turn into love, I just felt more and more bitterness and fear and anger. I definitely did not grieve. I ached in a tightness in my chest that I could not soften. It felt for months like a stabbing pain. I was becoming armored and stuck and brittle.
I remembered. I have been slowly coming to remember over the last week as I quit coffee and following a ceremony a new friend offered me, a burst of abundant love and understanding from my partner, and some great help on our land from friends. I have been remembering that this work I am doing to be aware of every loss and to in that truth heal myself and the earth requires help and gentleness.
I haven’t for months asked for the help of all the teachers around me. The singing coyotes and the stars and the soil my ancestors used to kiss. I haven’t been praying or meditating. I haven’t cried. I lost touch with the other side of the truth of systems seeing, of loving interbeing. I lost touch with that most cherished life-giving sun at the center of every moment.
To stay awake, we need help. This need is a gift.
In Christianity, there is a philosophical idea of felix culpa – the happy fault, the blessed fall. The fall is blessed because it gives us the opportunity for redemption – and redemption isn’t just a removal of the fault. It is greater to have fallen and to be redeemed then to never have fallen because of what the redemption brings. It is greater to have been sick and to know true healing because of what the true healing brings.
In my case, true healing requires I open my heart completely and connect to the earth, plant, fungi, animal, stellar, ancestral and human communities for help. It requires spiritual practices that awaken me to the ever-giving radiance within every moment. Because of this requirement, I come to know the impossibly rich inheritance of the common life I share with all beings and the luminous beauty overflowing within every atom of even the most terrible circumstances. A life in this awareness is the best life one could ever come to live. It is a life where an infinite loving family walks with us through any and every darkness.
Seeing in systems in the 21st century – and thereby opening to the pain of the world – is the beginning of a journey. It is a journey towards a life held in a love that does not end. It is not a line. It is a cycle. Suffering, awakening, suffering, awakening. Horizon, ground, horizon, ground. It happens again, and again, and again, each time a little different, each time old and new.
Thank you to my friends and all my communities for your irreplaceable help in trying to stay awake. Thank you to every time you work to stay awake. Thank you for the irrepressible wisdom that you cannot help but teach.