Finding the Strength in 2018

Let us follow the example set by the bravest among us, whose humanity has been under attack for literal centuries, but who yet continue to summon the strength and love to “Defend the Sacred.”

2017 saw some serious lifting of veils.

Even those who would really rather not notice couldn’t avoid the turmoil and upheaval of an increasingly fractured society coming to terms (or not) with another busted myth, the one we subbed in for belief in God, that of Progress. We’re not looking quite so Developed today as we’ve loved to imagine in the West. Nor is Nature looking quite so Conquered.

Still, that we all to varying degrees bury our heads in the sand is more than understandable. Feels more like necessary: an honest glimpse into the enormity of our social, economic, and political issues is immediately overwhelming, to say nothing of the rapidly deteriorating biosphere on which all life depends. On the zoom-out, no matter how hard we fight for the strictly human issues that so require our attention, we fight on a sinking ship.

It all adds up to an inner voice/texture/weight/darkness/etc that, while I can speak only for myself, would guess is common to most everyone, however buried or amplified: “what’s the point? We’re all gonna die! Nothing matters!” Conceiving of death as an infinite nothingness waiting patiently to claim each one of us forever and ever turns out not to inspire much in the way of sustained bravery.

So where are we going to find the strength (not to mention the time) to fight the battles that surely by now are moral imperatives, those of social and economic and ecological justice, and is it possible to fuse our fights into one?

We’ve got more empirical knowledge and information than we know what to do with, but it’s not translating into enough of what we need – the grounding force of wisdom. Let us look no further for wisdom than the leadership of Indigenous peoples at the forefront of progressive movements across the world. They have so much to teach us about activism. They are not protestors, they are protectors — rightly denying the conventional lexicon as it fails to accurately describe their resistance. Unlike so much of our “pickled in anti” (no matter how woke) activism on the left, Indigenous resistance, as witnessed at Muskrat Falls, Standing Rock and beyond, is sourced in love for the living systems that nourish and enable all life, and that no one can do without. It is resistance conducted in ceremony, bringing the protectors into ever-deepening love of what they protect.

Our interconnection with and dependence on this world — what a great deal of any true spirituality is founded on — is a scientific fact, but to know so intellectually is not enough. Faith in something greater than ourselves is not so much a leap of the mind, but an experience of the heart, through which the mind is illuminated. There’s no better place from which to operate. Doing so doesn’t mean giving up our anger; we need our anger to resist. What we don’t need is hate. Hate is scorching up our insides and the world without, though the dividing line is ultimately arbitrary.

So let us follow the example set by the bravest among us, whose humanity has been under attack for literal centuries, but who yet continue to summon the strength and love to “Defend the Sacred.”

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7 Comments

  • B and Jacob’s Ladder – that’s a great point and I agree. At this early point in addressing the topic I tend to err on the side of emphasizing that spirituality need not be beholden to particular a worldview or religion, just in the awareness of how many people (very fairly) have extensively negative associations with organized/institutional religion, as pointed out by Jacob’s Ladder.

    At the same time I have great personal admiration and am generally fascinated by all the core teachings and practices of all the main religious traditions, with particular interest in what Huxley called the Highest Common Factors shared between them all (see his book The Perennial Philosophy). Joseph Campbell is another inspiration on the subject, with his “idea that the whole of the human race can be seen as engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time, suffering, and ultimately death.”

    Anyway, to back to your point though, that for you it’s difficult to appreciate existence without a particular worldview, I know where you’re coming from for sure, because as a person a little too reliant and sometimes obsessed with the conceptual realm, I felt the same. This is where Zen Buddhism is such a liberating force for me. It’s emphasis on direct experience of the present moment and, despite having a rich literary tradition, insistent wariness of the trappings of the conceptual realm, help me out of my head into a much better balance of head and heart.

    But yes Jacob’s Ladder, you put it very well and amusingly. Spirituality and religion are saddled with some extremely heavy baggage in our culture. But as I argued in the article, their reclamation and reinvention could go a long way in giving us the strength to face the chaos and crises at hand.

  • It seems people are often afraid to say they believe in God (not specifically you Greg), because that would make them feel like Ned Flanders, and that doesn’t get people laid..

  • To me, it’s difficult to appreciate existence without a particular worldview, be it Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Atheism, etc. This is the benefit of having a framework to start from. I think it gives us a way to look at the questions we have about life so everything is not a jumbled mess. It allows us to question things and see why we might be wrong about things.
    After looking into the above mentioned worldviews, i find Christianity gives me the insight to the 4 main questions i have about life. These are:
    1/ Origin
    2/ Destiny
    3/ Purpose
    4/ Morality

  • Mark – thank you for reading and your kind words.

    St Onge – I don’t pretend to be Connected OR Knowing and the moment I claim to be either will be proof that I’m neither. Still… thank you.

    Sadie – a more than fair question given the trajectory of the article. No, we don’t need to look to a supreme being (by any name) for spiritual connection. In fact, that would be the next article to naturally follow this one: how spirituality should be understood as (not necessarily, but potentially) distinct from traditional religious institutions, dogma and ideas. No need for indulging in the metaphysical woo-woo nor the terrible oppression and subjugation that has so often accompanied those institutions.

    For me the spiritual path has been a slow and gradual de-conditioning of the toxic aspects of our society and culture, so as to make room for an awareness and appreciation of the unthinkably bizarre and miraculous mystery of existence itself — and the madness and beauty of being a human being within it. (We’re strongly encouraged to take this all for granted in everyday life). That might sound hopelessly vague, and in theory it totally is, but in practice it’s meant the ability to cope with and begin to make sense of the immense alienation, fear, despair etc that come with modern life — those feelings/experiences at the core of so many of our social, political, economic and environmental crises.

    To be a little more specific, I’m a couple years into practicing Zen Buddhism, in which there is no supreme being to worship (Buddha said such metaphysical matters are irrelevant cause we ultimately don’t get to know). But again, I don’t think any kind of formal or traditional approach is necessary. My hunch is that there are as many spiritual paths as unique human beings.

  • Your eloquent challenge for us to abandon the routine of addressing change through political or economic lenses is compelling. I’m feeling the undeniable weight of its rationale, wishing for the masses to simply tilt an ear to the ever-present voices of the Conmected and Knowing people.

  • “Faith in something greater than ourselves is not so much a leap of the mind, but an experience of the heart, through which the mind is illuminated. There’s no better place from which to operate. Doing so doesn’t mean giving up our anger; we need our anger to resist. What we don’t need is hate. Hate is scorching up our insides and the world without, though the dividing line is ultimately arbitrary.”

    Beautiful passage Greg. Thanks for sharing your eloquence and insight with us.

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