Have you been saying it as long as I have? “I wish collapse would just begin so that people would wake up, and we could just get on with it.” Well, here we are. Is this what you were hoping for? Or are you among the “collapsitarians” who have been studying collapse for years and are now saying, “But I didn’t think it was going to look like this.”
So let’s agree on one thing: The world will never be the same again. Your life and my life are forever changed. It’s quite human to feel myriad feelings about it. You may find yourself in a supermarket inwardly seething about the hording. You may find yourself crying as you witness a homeless person who can’t “shelter in place.” Your anxiety level may now be off the charts, and you feel marinated in fear. You are entitled to your feelings, and bravo for recognizing what they are, but as important as emotional intelligence is, your emotional responses to collapse are less important than other responses.
What our emotional intelligence does do for us, however, is help us be an observer, a witness if you like, to how we cope with crises. In the West, having an inner observer who bears witness to our thoughts, feeling, and behavior is a novel concept that we must work to develop. It allows us to have some space between ourselves and the world and between disparate parts of ourselves. If we find ourselves suddenly erupting with rage, a developed internal observer notices and is able to impartially and uncritically comment, “Isn’t it interesting how I’m raging right now? What is actually going on inside me at the moment?” Or if one feels overcome with anxiety, the internal observer can bear witness and not only be curious about that, but also have compassion for oneself. Developing the ability to neutrally bear witness to one’s emotional responses or one’s confusion, cognitive dissonance, or disbelief can be an invaluable skill in helping us stay grounded and present in the midst of crises.
Yet, even our internal observer isn’t our greatest ally. For the past thirteen years, I have been writing and speaking about another aspect of our being that is even more momentous. It’s what I call the Sacred Self or the deeper self or the ultimate spiritual reality within us that lies at the core of who we are. All of my work has been about emphasizing that we must connect with and utilize this supreme ally as we navigate the collapse of industrial civilization, climate catastrophe, and the potential extinction of our species. Our relationship with the deeper self will be the most consequential determinant of how we live and die through collapse.
At this moment, there is no more compelling question than: Who do I choose to be in collapse? We will not always be the person we would like to be, but nothing matters more than returning repeatedly to the question—perhaps many times each day. That question, more than any other, will then determine what we will do in collapse.
As we live with the question, Who do I choose to be? we will quite naturally act accordingly. If we are true to the question, and if the answer has something to do with our deeper self and who we are at our core, it’s very likely that heartbreak is going to be our first truly authentic response. Most of us expect too much of humanity because in the core of our own humanity we are caring and compassionate. Most humans who are disconnected from their core are not. It has to break our hearts when we witness the hording, the abandonment of people who need help, and the animals that humans abandon or neglect because the stress of collapse is bearing down on them.
All of this is mega-stressful to witness with clear eyes and an open heart, and no one—I repeat no one can do it alone. We absolutely must have people with whom we can share our heartbreak, our fears, our anger, our despair and whom we can support as they share theirs. The cliché that we hear all around us now is “We’re all in this together.” Reality check: Most people do not believe that because they already know that collapse is not going to transform most Americans from narcissistic, entitled, individualists into saintly, unselfish, celebrants of the commons. At this time when most of our human connections will be virtual, we have access to a variety of online groups and resources that help us not to be alone with the upheaval. (See those at the end of this article)
And locally, each of us must ask: What can I do? Can I deliver groceries to home-bound seniors? Can I help a church group provide food for poor children who are out of school and probably won’t get a decent meal at home? Can I order more take-out meals from local restaurants to support them in their time of financial crisis? Can I adopt a shelter pet who has recently been abandoned?
If you are reading this article, chances are you have been preparing for collapse for a long time. So now here it is. Everything—and I mean everything, is downhill from here. The challenge for each of us is to open to it and stop resisting it. Now you know firsthand how useless all those years of debating the question of “How is it going to play out?” actually were.
I have been writing and teaching for many years that we must view the global crisis in all its forms as a planetary rite of passage. The current manifestation of this rite of passage is a virus that attacks the body, but beyond the virus is a psycho-spiritual initiation that is engendered by the physical emergency. The physical agent could also be catastrophic forest fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, acidic oceans, or the disappearance of arable land. In any event, a rite of passage always appears in a form so drastic and dire that our lives are never the same afterward. And what is the point? From my perspective, the “point” is that we are being compelled to return to the experience of being fully human in relationship with our inherent and inextricable connection with nature, with other humans, and with the Sacred Self.
Some of the resources that are available to facilitate this rite of passage are:
Finally, I invite you to join me on March 28 and April 4 for an online mini-course: “Collapsing Into Coronavirus: Because This Is Not A Drill.” We really are all in this together. Let’s learn what that means.