I’m in a local group reading through Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook together. It posits climate change and peak oil — two separate but intertwined phenomena — and looks for ways local communities can become more resilient and vital in the face of greatly reduced energy resources and a planet where weather, habitat, and even masses like glaciers and seas are more and more in flux. (You can read more about the problem at Why Transition? There is also a 12-page leaflet that summarises the handbook.)
Hopkins’ suggestions and examples are meant to be hopeful, positive, creative, proactive, community-building. Ideas include generating fuel, food and housing locally, developing local currencies, sharing tools and skills, etc. His vision is of an evolution in our vision and our systems that helps us to weather a low-carbon, End-of-the-Oil-Age future. It’s certainly worth reading.
I’ve also been reading some articles lately that have a different perspective from The Transition Handbook. The point of view of both of these — Quote Of The Year. And The Next. at The Automatic Earth and The Road Down From Empire at Resilience — seems to be more an expectation of adaptation or collapse — rather than the evolution Hopkins envisions and hopes for. These writers seem to expect that we’ll deal with it when it happens (adaptation) or we won’t (collapse).
And that feels most likely to me. I think we humans respond to what feels urgent, in our hearts, to our senses — and not what we are told or even what we consciously think and intellectually agree is urgent. And climate change and the waning of liquid fuel don’t feel urgent to most Americans, including me. If one year is 1 degree warmer than other years, it doesn’t feel like anything. And, as most of us have experienced, sometimes what does feel urgent in life isn’t nearly as important or critical in the long run as it feels in the moment, and I think this tempers our response to complex crises, as does hearing, year after year, that something is a crisis. We get weary of responding, even if we respond only in our imaginations.
I really gravitate to the acceptance that disaster will happen, whether environmental or otherwise. For me, expecting that we won’t avert disaster doesn’t change at all my desire to do more with less; to be continually less involved with a consumerist/capitalist/growth-focused culture; to want and to work for a strong community where I (and others) have strong connections with neighbours, acquaintances and friends; to be in physical touch with the Earth around me and the other animals and plants living here; and to live a creative, centered and connected life. Accepting that we humans will probably fail to make needed changes — if we even really knew what they were, the system being so complex and dynamic naturally without even accounting for political, financial and economic, and technological complexity — feels freeing to me.
When I started making changes, years ago, to align my actions more with my values (still very much a work in progress), it wasn’t because I was afraid we were going to run out of oil, though I knew even then that we probably would if we kept doing what we were doing, because it is a finite resource, or and it wasn’t because I thought my actions would have any significant impact on the course of events beyond my life, and maybe not even in my own life. It was only because these actions brought me joy and made me feel whole(r), because they felt right (true, real, alive) to me. And that’s the only way I really want to speak about or “do” resiliency with other people, from the place of “what actions align most fully with what we/you value?”
I guess in perhaps a perverse way, I value relaxing and letting go of expectations in the face of probable impending doom. One of my favourite poems (The Dakini Speaks, by Jennifer Welwood), about personal loss, is applicable for me here:
Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple – how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like human ripe beings.
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability. …
For me, this isn’t a call to be passive, to do nothing, to roll over. Far from it. It’s a call to dance. We still act, every day, and it’s good to be aware of the stakes of our actions (for every being, insofar as we can know them) and to think about how to act well, and to do it. I’m an utter (yet subtle) evangelist for what I care about, but I harbor no notion that most of us will change our minds or our actions until it feels urgent to do so. And being told that a situation is urgent — in the words of TV infomercials, “You must act now!” — sometimes just increases the listener’s resistance to any message that follows (it does so for me, anyway).
For me, the poem I quoted is a reminder that no matter what we do, life (and “lifestyles”) will always always change, and everything will end, we will all end, in some way, even if we then begin again (or not). For me, it all starts with that in mind.
When people talk about hope, or try to find hope in situations or imagined situations, I can’t join in. I’m just not hoping for outcomes. More and more (though not fully) in the last 15 years or so, my practice goes another direction. It seems to be the direction of no-hope, at least when it comes to wanting or hoping for a specific outcome.
I’ve written about this quite a lot before. I wrote in April about environmentalists giving up. One, Paul Kingsnorth, says we need to replace “hope” with “imagination:” “I don’t think we need hope. I think we need imagination. We need to imagine a future which can’t be planned for and can’t be controlled. I find that people who talk about hope are often really talking about control. They hope desperately that they can keep control of the way things are panning out.”
Imagination is, I think, the basis of The Transition Handbook: communities envisioning their own rebirth and resiliency. But if we are envisioning the world we want for the future, if we are trying to find a way to make it less disastrous, isn’t that also keeping control? On the other hand, what else can we do? I do have a vision, of sorts, which I’ve written about before, of the completely gratuitous, prodigal embrace of the loving, forgiving victim. Of the joyous revelation of love. Of grace.
So “no-hope” doesn’t mean that I am in despair, though I may be grieving losses. It doesn’t mean I’m passive, though I may think that no action (or no speaking) is the best action to take. It doesn’t mean — in the context of transition, climate change and peak oil — that I’m not interested in being part of a vital community, in resiliency (personal and communal), in gardening, public transportation, being outdoors more, doing what benefits the web of all life, reducing and reusing, lightening my footprint on the earth, and so on. I’m excited about all those things.
It just means that I’m not looking for anything to give me hope. To the extent I have hope, or faith, or joy, it’s not related to outcomes, to a vision, to what might or might not happen in the future. I feel willing to receive what arises, and to the extent that I’m not willing, this is my practise, to open my arms wide.
It’s like Wendell Berry says, in his “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”:
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So, you know, I’m FINE (Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical). And I have no hope that I will be much else, but I am opening my arms to receive what arises.
As I wrote several years ago, part of a longer poem:
When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
No hope for the planet, for creation,
for my own violent nature,
for human progress,
for better living through science,
for community through technology,
for peace through meditation and prayer.
I pray, meditate, participate
When I notice, barely, my own violence
I offer it solace and wait in it, fidget,
pray for sustainable peace.
I am learning non-violence.
I am getting to know the Earth.
But: no hope.
Faith that love will always embrace,
disarm, and absorb the power of hate.
What that looks like,
is looking like,
will look like,
is beyond me. Or perhaps within me.
Whatever it is,
I rejoice with the stars
to flicker for a moment.