Mind-Boggling Nature!

The Athabasca Glacier, Alberta, Canada

Sometimes the things that fascinate us most in nature aren’t the things we can see, but the things we can’t.

This summer my husband and I visited Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. We were inspired to visit these parks a few years ago when we were in Glacier National Park, Montana. A woman who lived and worked there told us that if we thought Glacier was awesome, we should go to Jasper National Park up in Canada, which was like “Glacier on steroids.”

Well, we thought Glacier was the most spectacular mountain scenery we’d ever seen, so the idea that another five hundred miles north was something even more intensely beautiful thrilled us.

In anticipation of our trip, we bought travel and hiking guides off Amazon for Banff and Jasper. We Googled images of the two parks. We made a checklist: canoe Lake Louise, go inside the castle-like Banff Hot Springs Hotel, maybe take a boat around Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. These were the iconic destinations, and we couldn’t wait to see them all in person.

But there were things we didn’t expect to see or experience, and I’m glad, because while I like to plan things out when I travel, I also like to feel surprised.

The drive from the town of Banff to the town of Jasper is nearly 300 km long along the Icefield Parkway. Along the way, according to a map we picked up at the Banff visitor center, there are many places to pull out, go for a hike, check out a lake or just take photos. One of those places was the Columbia Icefield. On the full-color map, the Icefield was pictured as a large snowy area with a knobby-tired bus parked in the middle. I didn’t think much of this. I thought the Icefield was just going to be a high-altitude valley with a permanent snowfield or something. I so underestimated it.

Several hours into our spectacular drive, with “crazy ass” mountains around ever corner, we approached the Icefield. When I realized what I was looking at, I sat up straight in my carseat and my jaw dropped. Ahead of us was the largest glacier I had ever seen up close and personal – The Athabasca Glacier.

Along the Icefield Parkway between Banff and Jasper.
Tourists hiking up the trail toward the lip of the Athabasca Glacier.

There was a visitor center and a parking lot from which one could walk right up to the edge of the glacier. The moraine on either side of the ice was rocky and bare. The ice draped over the saddle of two towering mountains, some of the tallest in the Canadian Rockies, beyond which was the Apex, the point where the Continental Divide ended. The sheer amount of ice, the relative rockiness and lack of trees and vegetation made me feel as if we had been magically transported to Antarctica.

There were signs posted along the road leading up to the lip of the glacier to indicate how far the glacier had receded in the last century, which was about a quarter of a mile or more.  It seemed like a lot of loss, but then I studied our road map closer, really looked at it, and my mind boggled.

"Columbia icefield view" by Original uploader was Rufus Hawthorne at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons

The glacier we were seeing was just a small appendage of the much more massive Columbia Icefield. The icefield was an area of about 325 square kilometers with a depth averaging 100-300 meters (1000 feet), and that icefield was what we couldn’t see. It is the largest ice mass in North America south of the Arctic Circle. If we were to climb one of the mountains at the Apex and look directly west, we would see an ocean of snow and ice that reached out to a wilderness of semi-permanent winter. A real-life relic of the last ice age!

The Columbia Icefield formed three rivers and fed three oceans: the Pacific (the Columbia River), the Atlantic (North Saskatchewan) and the Arctic. The river that flowed from this glacier was the Athabasca River and it flowed all the way across Alberta to the Arctic Ocean. This was the first time in my life I was standing at the origin of a river that flowed to the Arctic Ocean.


As we departed and made our way north to Jasper, we saw many more glaciers that flowed off the Icefield. We saw snow cornices atop mountains that must have been 100 feet thick. We viewed distance crevasses that were large enough to swallow a house. It was one of the most spectacular drives I had ever experienced. And it was deep wilderness, with no houses or structures besides those servicing the Parkway, no roads, nothing but mountains and forest and glaciers as far as you could see.

I could not stop wondering about the Icefield. I imagined climbing one of the mountains at its edge or getting into a helicopter and seeing the massive icefield, imagining how much time it represents, how long that ice has been there. It was there when cavemen were painting horses and bison in the caves of France. It was there when the Egyptians were building pyramids. It was growing slightly a half century before the American Revolution and receeding when Kennedy was shot. There is frozen water buried under hundreds of feet of more frozen water that hasn’t seen sunlight or been exposed to air in over 125,000 years, perhaps.  This state of wonder made me feel pleasantly insignificant in terms of the vastness of time and the sheer size and force of the glacier and icefield. There are things on this earth that we know so little about as individuals, but that have endured for hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of years.

I didn’t know anything about the Columbia Icefield until about an hour after I was standing at its toe, reading about it in a tourist information brochure.

I’m so glad to be reminded that I can still be humbled by nature, in the little I know and the whole lot I don’t know, or can’t see, or have yet to discover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give Up Trying to Be Special

Our way of life is changing the planet.

It’s changing the climate, it’s stressing animal habits, it’s creating the next big global extinction event, and it’s melting the ice caps at a rate unprecedented to modern civilization.  We are squandering fossil fuels that took millions of years to form on industry that’s meant to make our lives easier, but has only made us increasingly stressed and unhappy. We are surrounded by gadgets and technology meant to create a global village, and we can have discourse with a virtually unlimited number of people anywhere in the world, all while sitting in the warm comfort of our living room. The options of where we can travel, live, work and play are almost endless, restricted only by finances. We can ease our discomfort at a moment’s notice by turning up the thermostat or Googling the answer to a frustrating conundrum.

And yet, our souls are withering. So many of us feel untethered in a sea of meaninglessness and distraction.

We have lived in the blip of time known as the Industrial Age, during which we increased our population from 1 billion to a world of more than 7 billion people in just a matter of 150 years. There will never again be a time like this on the planet. In another century or two there will be scant fossil fuels left to extract. The disease of modern civilization will eventually overtake us, and we will inevitably return to a way of life that’s both less complex and yet more arduous for our species.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t change the trajectory of evolution into something better, or that we can’t somehow start to heal the disease of Industrial Civilization. We can. All it takes is a subtle shift in how we view ourselves and the world we live in.

Healing can happen for the soul and for the planet when we stop trying to conquer, control or use nature, both for our “lifestyle” and for ego-gratification. True sustainability can occur when we see ourselves not as separate or above nature, but as intricately tied to our environment in ways we may not even be able to consciously comprehend. What we do and how we live has an impact on everything around us. The way we perceive the natural world and the way we interact with it (or not) can also greatly affect our physical and mental well-being.

When we use nature for ego-driven pursuits or as validation of how “special” we are, we are actually contributing to the feelings of inadequacy that compel us to seek out those experiences in the first place. Whatever we do, it can never be enough. There’s always someone better at the endeavor than we are, there’s always an untouched wilderness to explore or one more unclimbed mountain to scale.

When we give up hyperbolical pursuits and instead seek the pleasure of just being in nature, a completely new experience unfolds for us. We sense a deep, ancient acceptance of who we really are. Like the dark clouds that form on the distant horizon, we are not always benign, rather, we are capable of both creative and destructive forces. We are not unlike the lightning that sparks the fire that rips through ten thousand acres in a matter of days, killing thousands of trees and animals while at the same time providing the conditions that make way for new life and a better adapted ecosystem.  Our lives are stories filled with beginnings, endings and transformation and in the end, the unavoidable tragedy of entropy. When we spend contemplative time immersed in nature, we see the entire universe reflected by all our senses, and we are grateful for the gift of consciousness. We feel truly at home.

 

 

Nature, the Media, Real and Perceived Violence

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

I spent a week in Glacier National Park, Montana with my family, almost completely unplugged. We didn’t have cell phone service where we were lodging, there was no wireless, and the only time we could check messages or receive calls or texts was when we drove into Columbia Falls or West Glacier to get groceries. We did have cable television in our cabin, so there was some tie to technology and the outside world if we wanted it.

Other than needing an update on some luggage Frontier airlines lost, I really didn’t care about not having phone or internet. I enjoyed the respite from my day job, which involves sitting at the computer writing or designing for many hours a day.

We were visiting Glacier because we were intrigued by the almost-surreal photos of the park we had seen. These photos featured mountains that were pointier and steeper than any mountains in Colorado, with lush valleys greener than anything west of the Mississippi, except for the Cascades and Olympics.

I don’t own a professional-quality camera and I’m just a mediocre photographer anyway, so the photos I’m posting here can’t do the place justice. When I first embarked on a hike in the Many Glacier area, I remarked that the entire place looked almost fake, like one of those sofa paintings you learn how to create in a half an hour on Sunday morning off a PBS television show. Waterfalls that were hundreds of feet tall, and hundreds of them, insanely steep cliffs, rivers snaking through valleys that were green with moss and pines and birch. If there’s a bucket list of hikes to do in the United States, I would rank this among the Top 5.

Something happened midway through our stay in the wilderness that bolted us out of the present moment of blissful contentment with the scenery. While our on way to Whitefish for the day, my daughter received a text from a friend telling her about the Aurora theatre shooting. Just like the vistas in the park, at first the story seemed fake. My teen had been waiting to see this movie for what seems like months, and to get a text that said, “Somebody came into the theatre on opening night and started shooting and killed more than a dozen people” sounded like a mean prank designed to annoy her, like a not-so-funny joke meant to burst the bubble of a 14-year old who’s been anticipating seeing a popular action movie for a long time.

We quickly discovered that it wasn’t a joke. Suddenly, we were not present to our surroundings any more. We were lost in thought, thinking about what happened 1,000 miles away. We empathized with the people who had experienced the tragedy. We imagined what we would have done if it had happened to us.

Then, when we returned to our cabin, we made the mistake of turning on CNN.

There wasn’t much new to report, but that didn’t stop the reporters from retelling the tragedy over and over.  Cameras and microphones were dispatched to Aurora and San Diego with the hopes of getting some juicy tidbit from friends and family. And I realized, that just like the 150 point headlines on the Huffington Post, the media loves to sensationalize a tragedy. If there isn’t a tragedy sufficiently shocking enough to warrant 7/24 coverage for many days in a row, it doesn’t matter. They’ll come up with something. They’ll create drama, controversy and tragedy where barely any exists. And if something awful really does happen, like it did in Aurora, it’s capitalized and maximized. The media loves a tragedy.

I know what happened was horrible, and because it happened so close to home, even more shocking.  I don’t know quite how to say this without sounding callous in some way about what happened, but I wonder if people realize the mainstream media’s sole purpose is to make money and distract us with sensational stories so we become addicted to the drama. It’s not really to “report” anything. These people aren’t even real journalists, probably. And let’s face it. Shitty things happen every day, all over the world. In recent days hundreds have died in attacks in Iraq.  Adults murdered children in Rwanda and Darfur. Children murdered adults. Somewhere, right this minute, a creepy old man is sexually exploiting a child and lying about it.

You know what else is happening right now? There has been unprecedented melting of glacial ice in Greenland. We are poisoning ourselves and the environment with toxins. We are depleting soil quality and clean drinking water. Species are dying off. We are on the downhill slope of Peak Oil. Climate change has entered the phase of negative feedback loops and we probably won’t be able to alter its course, even if we all stopped driving and using electricity today.  The last time the temperatures rose this quickly was during the Permian extinction, which killed all but 3% of life on Earth.

We are on board a runaway train headed toward a cliff, and there are no guardrails.

Why aren’t those stories told with 150 point headlines on Huffington Post and monitored ad naseum 7/24 on CNN and FoxNews?

It also made me consider that in the midst of the wilderness in Glacier, where rangers harp on “bear awareness” and bookshelves at the gift shop feature, among the nature photography, frightening nonfiction about bear and animal attacks, the true violence isn’t in wilderness. After hearing what happened to the regional Native American people from a Blackfeet tribal historian, I see where the real danger lies.  After experiencing record heat and seeing so much of the Front Range explode in fire this summer, all while energy companies advertise how “sustainable” and “good” they are to the environment, I see where the black heart of evil resides.

It isn’t in the woods or on the grassy slopes of a national park.

True violence isn’t where we fear it is. It isn’t in the deep woods of a national park at 3 am, or while you’re hiking alone in silence in Glacier. That’s not where true violence is, and it’s not  where we should be feeling trepidation. True violence is sitting next to us in a dark theatre, about to execute its agenda, as we’re about to enjoy a tub of popcorn and a superhero action movie with our kids.

Less Nature, More Drilling (Ugh!)

Last week I received an e-mail from the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, the nonprofit formed in 1995 to construct the Continental Divide trail, with the sad announcement that they are ceasing operations. Their Board of Directors had to make this difficult decision due to “increasing pressures from development in the West, rising land costs, and challenges with the longstanding down cycle in the economy”.

The Continental Divide Trail is a hiking trail that stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, and in Colorado it traverses the backbone of the Rocky Mountains. As of 2011, 2,268 miles of Trail have been completed, and volunteers were responsible for 525 of those miles, and to date 832 miles remain to be constructed.

The CDTA was a long-time graphic design client of mine. From 2001 to 2010, I designed their quarterly newsletters, event flyers and posters. I was proud to have contributed to the success of their campaign in this small way, because I believe that the completion of the trail is not just good for state tourism and mountain economies, but for providing low-impact ways of re-connecting people with nature and wilderness. This is important to the future of our planet. The news that they’re closing their doors was not just a shock, but pained me to think that this project may never be completed. I certainly hope that I’m wrong about that.

How many hikers have experienced moments of wonder, transcendence and revelation on the Continental Divide trail? How many families came to volunteer through the last 15 years to swing a pick and shovel dirt and be a part of this legacy? What kind of impression did that make on kids, and how were their lives affected forever? How invaluable are these experiences to future generations?

We need more nature in our lives, and low-impact access to wilderness such as the CDT, the Colorado Trail or the Appalachian Trail, not only provides this kind of access to anyone of virtually any background, education and income level, but helps stimulate local and state economies with tourism. People come to Colorado from all over the world to hike these trails in the summer. It helps mountain towns maintain a decent economy in the summer, when ski resorts are closed. Being able to experience the peace and beauty of wilderness on a well-maintained and relatively safe trail with others is something we may have been taking for granted during the economic boom of the later part of the last century. When the economy takes a downturn, as it has in the last several years, everything but the most critical of services and support systems gets underfunded or neglected.

In the current worldview, access to nature is not seen as a “critical” service. As things get progressively more uncertain, it seems that jobs and money take precedence over beauty, human health, ecological health and sometimes even common sense.

About the same time I heard of the demise of the CDTA, I read that oil and gas companies were gearing up for more fracking operations along the Front Range—this time in a couple of state parks. I have already witnessed more oil and gas operations setting up shop in Dacono, Erie, Commerce City and Broomfield. Energy is something that is almost never in soft demand and as we fall on the downward slope of the peak oil parabola, we are becoming more and more desperate to eke out anything we can, anywhere we can find it. Nothing is sacred anymore. Drilling near suburban neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds? Sure, why not? We need the jobs, and the gas. Setting up a rig in state parks and maybe even National Parks? Well, where else are we to find new pockets of energy?

These operations are not just unsightly and polluting, they are a disturbance to the wildlife and human residents. A Denver Post commentary from October, 2011 sums it up nicely: there are things that are priceless that are worth protecting for future generations. Clean air, clean water, quality of life.

If I extrapolate the future based on what I’m seeing today, I will predict that in ten or twenty years we will have less nature and more oil and gas rigs. We will have sold out our precious, irreplaceable resources for a quick buck and in the end, we will not have avoided economic and societal collapse, we will have just postponed it a few months or years. We will have less and less unspoiled stretches of wilderness and more cancer, more poverty and more despair. This is the future, unless we all commit to educating ourselves and doing some deep soul-searching.

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Resilience In Traumatic Times

By Carolyn Baker, PhD.

Original article can be found on Carolyn Baker’s website at CarolynBaker.net.

NOTE TO READER: Carolyn and I will be co-facilitating two workshops in Denver, CO on the 3 Keys to Resilience in Uncertain Times. If you’d like to meet others and discuss your thoughts and anxieties about what’s happening with the world’s economy and environment, and learn ways to cope emotionally and spiritually, please join us February 4th and March 10th. For more information or to register click here or email me at magsemerson@yahoo.com.

 

While mainstream media has been encouraging collective dithering over a possible U.S. government shutdown, the chilling realities of off-the-chart levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, escalating upheavals throughout the Middle East, and surging oil prices have been simmering in the background, remaining the lethal environmental, geopolitical, and economic time bombs that they are. Weeks ago, I was well aware that a government shutdown was highly unlikely but would be used to distract our attention from more urgent matters, and thus, I reported only one story about it in my Daily News Digest.

I recently returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?

In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like Obama’s 2012 campaign and the royal wedding.

And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world where having a full-time job is becoming increasingly rare, how they will access healthcare without insurance or the money to pay out of pocket, or how they will make ends meet in forced or voluntary retirement.

Obviously, these anxieties are relevant to the world’s middle classes and not to teeming masses of human beings living on two dollars per day or less. Ironically, however, it is frequently the case that for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing. They hear no reports of nuclear meltdowns, and even if they did, such news would seem insignificant in the face of needing to secure food or water for today—a type of existence that contains its own traumas and yields dramatically short lifespans.

Having inhabited a middle class existence, one can only comfort oneself for so long by reflecting on the plight of the destitute in far off places. One’s immediate reality is an anomalous deprivation, a stark loss of the familiar, and the looming reality that things will not get better, but only worse, and that these losses are unpredictably punctuated with frightening events such as extreme weather, natural disasters, nuclear meltdowns, or the terrifying consequences of rotting infrastructure such as pipeline explosions or collapsing bridges. These realities take their toll on the body—sleepless nights, a weakened immune system, moodiness, anger, depression, despair, and often, suicidal thinking. Whether the trauma is dramatic and frequent such as a 9.0 earthquake in Japan followed by high intensity aftershocks, or whether it slowly grinds on amid a disquieting sense of the permanent loss of so much that one held dear, the landscapes of countless lives are forever, painfully altered, emotionally littered with charred shells of once exuberant and robust routines.

Yes YOU Have Been Traumatized

But, you may argue, I haven’t been traumatized. My life is amazingly normal. I’m weathering the collapse of industrial civilization reasonably well and feel profoundly grateful.

Indeed I celebrate your good fortune, but I must add that no inhabitant of industrial civilization is without trauma because that paradigm is by definition, traumatizing.

It is only when you understand the extent to which you have been traumatized outside of your awareness that you can effectively prepare for and yes, welcome, the demise of empire and its ghastly assaults on your soul and the earth community.

In the face of extreme weather events and earth changes, skyrocketing food and energy prices, increasingly dramatic expressions of civil unrest globally, massive unemployment, global economic evisceration of the middle classes, and the proliferation of toxins worldwide—whether from fracking in Pennsylvania or leaking reactors in Japan, we are all in varying states of emotional breakdown and breakthrough. The sands are shifting under the feet of all human beings on this planet. Nothing is as it seems. “Things fall apart,” said William Butler Yeats, “the center cannot hold.”

Call it whatever you like—collapse, Transition, Great Turning. Put a happy face on it or a terrified one, but regardless of how you spin it, regardless of how much you want to feel good about it—and there is much to feel good about, the changes are dizzying, sometimes delightful, sometimes devastating. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be alive, and it’s an excruciating time to be alive. Sometimes one feels schizophrenic, sometimes bipolar. But all of that, yes all of that, is traumatizing to the human nervous system, and if we don’t recognize that, we’re probably hiding out in the “Hurt Locker” of empire.

So how do we not hide out? How do we face our trauma, begin healing it, and protect ourselves as much as humanly possible from further wounding, particularly as life becomes even more traumatic?

The Transition movement has provided us with a treasure-trove of resources for cultivating logistical resilience in our communities through awareness-raising, reskilling, and creating self-sufficient and sustainable communities. Anyone not involved in this kind of logistical preparation is only half-awake, yet many individuals believe that no other preparation is necessary. Might that not, in fact, be one characteristic of trauma? Just as the PTSD-scarred combat veteran insists that all he needs is another good battle to make him feel better, it may be that the hunger for one more gold or silver coin, one more case of freeze-dried food, one more bucket of barley, one more permaculture class, one more emergency response training is yet another means of avoiding the emotional healing and preparation work every human being needs to do in order to navigate the accelerating unraveling of the world as we have known it.

A Few Ways Of Developing Emotional Resilience

1)     Understand that industrial civilization is inherently traumatizing. Make a list of the ways it has wounded you and those you care about.

2)     If you are involved with a Transition initiative, start or join a heart and soul group where the psychology of change (see The Transition Handbook) can be discussed in depth and group members can share feelings about the acceleration of collapse as well as share how they are preparing for it emotionally.

3)     Become familiar with your emotional repertoire and how you deal with your emotions—or not. Imagine the kinds of emotions that you and others are likely to feel in an unraveling world. How do you imagine yourself dealing with those emotions? How would you prefer to deal with them?

4)     Think about how you need to take care of yourself right now in an increasingly stressful world. What stresses do you need to pull back from? What self-nurturing activities do you need to increase?

5)     Who is your support system? If you do not have people in your life with whom you can discuss the present and coming chaos, you are doubly stressed. Find people with whom you can talk about this on a regular basis.

6)     What are you doing to create joy in your life? Do you have places in your life where you can have fun without spending money or without talking about preparation for the future?

7)     What are you doing to create beauty? Life may become uglier on many levels, including the physical environment. How can you infuse more beauty into the world? Use art, music, poetry, dance, theater, storytelling and other media to enhance the beauty of your community and your immediate environment.

8)     Consider creating a regular poetry reading salon in which people come together perhaps monthly to share poems or stories which express the full range of human emotions. Many communities have found poetry sharing events to be incredibly rich venues for deepening connections and their own emotional resilience.

9)     Spend as much time as possible in nature. Read books and articles on ecopsychology and take contemplative walks or hikes in which you intentionally engage in dialog with nature.

10) Engage at least twice a day in some kind of mindfulness practice such as meditation, inner listening, journaling, guided visualization. Still another tool for mindfulness and community deepening is sacred earth-based rituals which can be done individually or shared in a group.

It is important to remember that challenging experiences are not necessarily traumatizing experiences. The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will constitute massive trauma. The less attached we are to living life as we have known it, and the more open and resilient we are—the more we are utilizing the myriad tools that exist for preparing our emotions, our bodies, and our souls for collapse, the more capacity we create for navigating a formidable future.

All of the above suggestions are related to releasing stress from the mind and body. As the external stresses of an unraveling civilization accumulate, we all need ways for letting go of them. My friend, Jerry Allen, of Transition Sebastopol, California who is also a Marriage and Family Therapist, recently penned an article entitled “The Importance of Effectively Discharging Accumulated Stress As Our World Moves Into Crisis,” in which he states:

Learning to effectively release accumulated stress is not some peripheral process that is needed primarily to treat returning soldiers and victims of abuse, as important as that treatment is. Learning to let go of accumulated stress and discharge new stresses is a vital skill for all of us who are preparing ourselves to face the unknown future. It is as important as doing physical emergency preparations. We have witnessed the chaos, rage and panic that can grip communities when devastating changes happen. When panic hits as someone yells “fire” in a crowded theatre, other voices need to be ready to stand aside and start singing loudly to calm the people and re-direct their energies.  Such work has saved hundreds of people from trampling deaths in panicked crowds. If we are still too activated by our own build up of trauma, we will not be in a position to discharge fast and take quick decisive community initiative.

As we prepare to serve in a helping role among many, it makes sense to train a vibrant cadre of our community members on how to cultivate body awareness, let go of stress fast, remobilize our adaptive capacity and be ready for action. It also makes sense to explore and adapt the use of story, song, dance, ritual and whatever works to help our communities come together, heal together and strengthen our joint body for action.

My just-published book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition is chock full of re-usable tools for creating and maintaining vibrant emotional resilience. It is also ideal for use in Transition heart and soul or study groups focused on creating emotional resilience.

I do not assume that a world of increasing crises will be a world devoid of cooperation or community building. In her brilliant 2009 book, A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit notes that in most natural disasters, human beings, in most cases, unite in a spirit of cooperation to support each other. While I certainly concur and reviewed Solnit’s book in an article entitled, “Disaster: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” I am also well aware that cooperation is not the only response to trauma. Furthermore, the collapse of industrial civilization is most likely to play out in an irregular, “lumpy” fashion in different locations at different times. How it plays out and over what period of time will dictate how humans respond. One thing is certain: Responses will not always be benevolent, caring, and cooperative.

Thus we must prepare for a very uncertain future by consciously cultivating emotional resilience. This involves addressing the myriad ways in which we have been traumatized by the current paradigm and training with intention for encountering situations in the future which may be even more emotionally challenging in a world unraveling.

 

Carolyn was a psychotherapist in private practice for 17 years and a professor of psychology and history for 10. She is the author of several books, including Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition (2011) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). She manages her website, Speaking Truth to Power at www.carolynbaker.net. Carolyn publishes the Daily News Digest which is a collection of independent news stories focusing on unprecedented transitions and options for navigating an uncertain future. She also writes a regular column entitled Collapsing Consciously for Mike Ruppert’s website, Collapsenet. Carolyn tells stories with an African drum and leads workshops on Navigating The Coming Chaos and on Relationships In The Long Emergency. She has a Transition coaching and spiritual direction practice locally in Boulder, Colorado and by phone or Skype worldwide for people who want help with dealing with the unprecedented challenges of our time.

The Intersection of Evolution, Spirituality and Psychology

For all of human history we have possessed limited knowledge about how our minds and our emotions actually work. We’ve been at the whim of primitive instincts, often at the most crucial moments in our lives.

Even today, we often find it difficult to understand how we think and what we feel and why we respond to things the way we do. But that’s all beginning to change…

Here’s something I highly recommend:

Evolutionize Your Life: The Science of How to Decode Human Behavior, Eliminate Self-Judgment, and Create a Big-Hearted Life of Purpose and Joyful Integrity:

Free Teleseminar Sign Up

In the last 20 years, scientists have essentially decoded human nature. We are finally able to understand, in a way that almost anyone can grasp, why we do what we do — what makes us tick (and why we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot and say and do things that are really not in our best interest — or in the best interest of those we love.)

Seeing the truth of how the world works, especially our inner world — can set us free.
That’s why I’m excited to invite you to an eye-opening, life changing teleseminar:

Evolutionize Your Life: The Science of How to Decode Human Behavior, Eliminate Self-Judgment, and Create a Big-Hearted Life of Purpose and Joyful Integrity: Free Teleseminar Sign Up

In this teleseminar, you’ll learn how our inherited instincts have come to be deeply “mismatched” with the sophisticated, demanding lives we actually live today.

You’ll also learn why, now more than ever, it’s imperative that we learn how to consciously identify, understand — and change — the way we respond to life, to no longer act blindly out of old, outmoded, and potentially harmful habits and reflexes.

You’ll discover how evolutionary brain science is revealing powerful insights and practical tools that can help us transform our primitive selves into the person you’ve always wanted to be.

After all, our ancient ancestors never had to deal with the levels of complexity and uncertainty most of us have to deal with every day!

Your Seminar Presenters:

For the last decade, bestselling author and change-agent Michael Dowd, and his wife and mission partner, noted science writer Connie Barlow, have been teaching and empowering tens of thousands of people (of all backgrounds and beliefs) with a cutting-edge, science-based understanding of the roots of human nature. In so doing they’ve been helping people to evolve to their highest potential and craft mutually enriching relationships.

With a scientifically accurate view of our inner workings and a cosmic perspective on the meaning and significance of human life, Connie and Michael offer transformative insights and practical tools that were simply not available until now—insights that bring a focused and liberated life within our grasp.

Evolutionize Your Life: The Science of How to Decode Human Behavior, Eliminate Self-Judgment, and Create a Big-Hearted Life of Purpose and Joyful Integrity: Free Teleseminar Sign Up

If you’re looking for a proven set of unique and powerful science-based tools to help you take your personal, relational, creative, intellectual, or spiritual practice to the next level, I highly recommend this teleseminar.

If you can’t attend the broadcast live, download the recording and listen to it later at any time.

4 Reasons Why “Progress” Isn’t Always Progress

From the time we were children, we’ve been taught that “progress”—as defined by capitalist American culture—is a good thing. Progress is manifest destiny. Progress is civilizing the uncivilized, elevating the inhabitants of the third world and taming the “savages” that lived off the land. Progress is taming nature, not being at its mercy. Progress means more time for leisure and the opportunity to be wealthy and comfortable.

Progress is a good thing. Or is it?

Perhaps we need to examine our unexamined assumptions, because despite our push toward that sort of economic and social “progress”, most Americans are no more happy today than they were in the 1970s, according to a study done by University of Pennsylvania economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. While there have been certain social milestones made in the last two centuries when it comes to human social progress, other forms of economic or technological progress hasn’t all been good. Certainly, we can celebrate the end of slavery, segregation, and polio. We should hail the progress that the women’s rights movement has made in the last century, and feel relieved that advances in medicine mean we can cure most cancer and help women deliver babies safely as compared to several centuries ago. We can feel grateful that progress has meant that men and women alike no longer have to toil on the land in order to survive and thrive: they can become artists and engineers and activists and leave the hard work to those who find their soul’s calling in the agricultural arts.

However, the endless quest for progress has brought us such environmentally destructive practices as natural gas fracking, tar sands, and risky deep water drilling. More consumption means more pollution, more rainforests cut down to accommodate agriculture, more trees cut to manufacture paper for magazines and junk mail.

In the mainstream media today, progress is akin to a national religion. When the economy isn’t growing, we’re not making progress, and therefore, we need to put all our time and energy into making sure we get things back on track.  This is the Story that our culture lives by and subscribes to, but it is this story that will foretell our demise. Do we even stop for one minute to consider that the story we’re telling ourselves isn’t correct? That from the perspective of the planet, and thus ultimately from the human perspective, progress isn’t always progress?

Here are at least four reasons why:

Reason #1: Progress has disconnected us from nature.

It’s true that in the last two centuries, there have been great strides in technology and efficiency that have enabled most people to pursue careers of a non-agrarian nature. One farmer, equipped with fuel-powered tractors and petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, can do the work of hundreds of farmers without such implements. Therefore, more people have been able to branch out into the arts and sciences and dream up things like machines that can travel across a city or out into space. We no longer need to have the knowledge of how food grows or how to care for the land on which we live: we can exchange our thinking in the form of skills and talents for food and shelter. When in the past people would know when the first frost was likely to end a growing season and what “normal” rainfall to expect year to year—because their very life depended on it—today people barely notice the weather because they spend time indoors in climate-controlled offices and houses.

But we cannot live as a species disconnected from the rest of nature. When the sole purpose of our life becomes the acquisition of money and material goods, and we no longer care about what happens to the rivers and forests surrounding our cities, massive environmental degradation is sure to follow. When we can once again enjoy a relationship with nature—whether it’s in the form of gardening, farming or simply hiking—we can once again be physically and spiritually healthy.

Reason #2: Progress has disconnected us from each other.

People used to spend a lot more time together as a community. Now people are too busy working in cubicles, commuting to and from work, and compulsively checking our e-mail to really get to know their neighbors. And why should they care about knowing or befriending their neighbors when we don’t really NEED them anymore? If our car breaks down we have our choice of perhaps dozens of auto repair shops that can service our car. If we need a loaf of bread we just go and buy one from the grocery store. If we need a barn for our horses (or RVs), we hire a contractor to build one. In the old days, alienating yourself from your neighbors meant a difficult and lonely life. Today, it means that you’re just “busy” and probably have a big salary.

Money has enabled us to become self-reliant and independent, and it has destroyed community. Technology has made the world a smaller place, but it has isolated us from each other. Instead of going over a friend or neighbor’s house for dinner and conversation, we eat our fast food meal alone on the couch while watching TV and checking our cellphone every five minutes to see if anyone has commented on our Facebook status. No gadget, software or website can take the place of real human companionship and interaction. We are deficient in community and we don’t even know it, because we think we are “friends” with more people than ever through the internet. But while face-to-face time satiates our craving for companionship, spending time on the computer does not. Therefore, we have become addicted to technology and the momentary euphoria of being acknowledged by words on a screen.

Reason #3: Life expectancy goes up, but health goes down.

Life expectancy has gone up considerably in the last two centuries because of advances in medicine. Antibiotics, chemotherapy, surgery, and many life-saving drugs have made it possible for most Americans to reach a ripe old age of 70. However, it’s the quality of health that’s gone down for many—particularly the lower-income demographic. According to the American Cancer society, an unhealthy lifestyle of poor eating habits, smoking and little exercise has increased cancer cases to 27 million and increased cancer deaths to 17 million in 2009. China, Russia and India are expected to have the highest rate of increase of cancer incidence and deaths and the overall global increase is expected to be 1% per year. Tobacco use and obesity are the leading causes of cancer in poorer countries. Children are developing Type 2 diabetes in America, something that was practically unheard of just 50 years ago. Residents living near natural gas drilling platforms are at an increased risk of developing neurological problems and disease. Allergies are epidemic, and scientists postulate that a too-sterile environment is to blame. Processed food is cheap and easy, but nutritionists and doctors now warn that a diet high in processed food can cause colon cancer and other health problems.

Reason #4: Resource depletion and environmental destruction.

Human activities have led to a rate of species extinction that is at least 100–1,000 times higher than the natural rate.  Industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops have killed soil fertility and left what amounts to a chemically-dependent sponge upon which we grow plants and feed crop. We treat animals like products to be caged, injected with hormones and drugs, and slaughtered en-masse instead of treating them like creatures that can feel pain and despair.  We dump industrial toxins into rivers and oceans and tell the world that the ocean is big and “can take it” when there’s an oil spill and we have to pour even more chemicals into it in order to cover up our negligence. We don’t care that we’re poisoning the air or the waterways or causing the extinction of precious animals and plants, because all we seem to care about are jobs, economic growth, and how much money we’re going to have in our bank account.

What is the cost of all this insanity?  What else will we have to sacrifice or destroy in order to worship at the altar of this so-called progress?

A New Definition of Progress

Progress must mean more to us than taking away from nature in order to gain material goods for ourselves. Progress has not given us more free time to spend with our friends and family; it has made us more stressed and fearful than ever. We can’t count on our non-existent community, so we work jobs we hate so we can continue to live in the illusion that our happiness depends on maintaining our current “lifestyle.” Progress has to mean examining what really makes us content, and working within the limits of the planet in terms of resources. The greatest tragedy of the human race has been the squandering of fossil fuels, particularly oil—in 200 years we will have used up most of these miracle energy sources that took millions of years to form and which we will never get back.

Progress should mean working within the Earth’s limits to ensure that people aren’t just well-off financially, but happy and healthy. It means closing the gap between the very rich and the desperately poor, because progress can’t just mean the improvement of the lives of 5% of the population. Progress means peace, and cooperation, and more beauty in the world. It means figuring out a way to live on the planet so that our children and our great-great-great grandchildren can enjoy the same wilderness we’ve enjoyed, and not just in a zoo or on television. Progress should mean that we put our collective energy into elevating our spiritual and emotional growth, instead of protesting against this or that political party or the latest atrocity against nature and humanity. Increasing beauty, happiness and well-being of all: I’ll take that sort of progress over the latest high-tech, plastic entertainment gadget any day.

Memories of a Free-Range Childhood

Aldo Leopold, ecologist, author and founder of the science of wildlife management, once wrote that there are those who love wild things and sunsets, and there are those who do not. While I agree that there are people who prefer to relax on the couch and watch television than to sit on a grassy hillside to watch the sun sink down over the mountains, I don’t think that people are born disliking nature. Children are drawn to animals and are natural “tree-huggers” (as well as tree-climbers!) If they dislike or fear nature, it’s because of a traumatic experience or because they’ve been sheltered from it because of growing up in an urban, human-centered environment.

We are born loving nature.  Author Edward O. Wilson, in his book Biophilia, wrote that humans’ attraction to animals and natural landscapes is biological and a result of evolution. But because humans are social creatures, even a thing like a love of nature can be socialized out of us. From an early age, we can be taught that nature is something to be studied, commoditized, feared or used for entertainment. Or, we can be taught that nature has inherent value, that it sustains and nurtures us, and that we cannot be separated from it without endangering our own physical and mental health. Nature, we teach children, is either something “out there” or it’s something that is a part of us and that we’re connected to.

People of my generation or older often remark about what a different world they grew up in. They reminisce about wandering all over town with their friends as children, playing in the lakes and streams and woods and making up games with found objects. When I was 10 years old, my friends and I used to walk around the ball fields behind my house with a fishing net and catch butterflies, which we would then put into a jar and observe for a while before letting them go. We would bike ride up and down the streets, visit garage sales, buy candy at the corner convenience store or ice cream cones at the Dairy Queen. Our mothers never seemed to worry where we were or if we were okay. They just asked us to be home for lunch and dinner, which we would happily do after an entire day of exploring the neighborhood.

I didn’t live in some idyllic pastoral valley far away from urban crime, either. I lived in inner city Detroit, and this was the mid 70s. My husband grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, and his memories of a free-range childhood are similar, but consist of more natural settings: dark forests, forbidden fishing ponds, and a small mountain anchoring the town.

My earliest memories of nature outside my neighborhood were weekends spent either on Lake Huron or at smaller, interior lakes, either boating or picnicking on the shore. I was afraid of the deep, black water, but my parents encouraged me to swim in it anyway. Entire afternoons would be spent in our motorboat, with the plap-plap-plap sound of the waves hitting the sideboard as my dad cast out his fishing line or my mom handed out sandwiches. When I got older, my family and I took a road trip across the country, and it was in a campground in South Dakota that I took my first walk in the wild woods. That vacation was a big part of why I now live in Colorado, and why I love to hike.

My parents were protective, but they didn’t teach me that nature is something to fear or abuse. Our vacations, which were mostly road trips with our aluminum trailer in tow, took place in the countryside, in campgrounds, on scenic byways and national parks. Nature was a reward, a place to rest and rejuvenate, and a place to find that wildness that was so lacking in the inner city where we lived.

In the 21st century, things are different. Many parents fear letting their children out of sight of the backyard. The public school system teaches science, but not place-based ecology. Children learn to analyze nature but not necessarily love it. Nature is taught as being necessary for economy, as having value only as an object to be quantified, studied and turned into profit. Loving something requires having a relationship with it, and it’s hard to have a relationship with numbers, pictures in a book, or cells seen through a microscope.

When children are given an opportunity to have a relationship with nature, either through trips to the lake, or by observing backyard animals, or fishing in lakes and streams, they develop memories that influence how they perceive nature later in life. Rivers have value for more than just electricity generation. Forests have value for more than just timber and pulp. Oceans have value for more than just gas and oil exploration. These wild places are necessary for our survival and our humanity.

They will grow up knowing this, not because they learned it in a textbook. They will know it because they dream about being in vast, natural places or because they long for the sacred peacefulness of a glassy lake at dawn. They will become lovers of wild things and sunsets.

Hiking and the New Cosmology

Brainard Lake – Long Lake/Isabel Glacier Trail

Location: West of Boulder, between Nederland and Estes Park, near Ward

Directions: From Boulder there are two ways of getting to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area:

1. From central Boulder take Canyon Blvd. west to Nederland, turn right (north) on Highway 72 (the Peak-to-Peak Highway) and go 11.5 miles. Turn left at the brown sign indicating the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Once you enter the park, follow the signs to Brainard Lake, and then the Long Lake trailhead parking lot.

2. From north Boulder and I-36, take Left Hand Canyon Drive west through the small town of Ward. At the T-intersection at Highway 72, turn right (north) and make your first immediate left where you see a brown sign for Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Once you enter the park, follow the signs to Brainard Lake, and then the Long Lake trailhead parking lot.

Duration: 2-1/2 to 5 hours, depending on if you go just to Isabel Lake or all the way to the top of Pawnee Pass (elevation 12,943 ft.) and back.

Access Notes: If you’re planning this hike in summer and going as far as Pawnee Pass, which is above treeline and very exposed, it’s wise to get as early of a start as possible—before 8 a.m. This way, you’re more likely to be off the mountain when afternoon summer thunderstorms and lightning occur. The Brainard Lake Recreation Area and the Long Lake and Mitchell Creek trails are one of the most popular alpine hikes near Boulder, particularly in summer and on weekends. The parking lots fill up quickly, so arrive before 8 a.m. or even earlier if you can manage it. If one of the lots is full, try the other and walk to the trailhead. That will only add 15 minutes to your hike. There are limited spaces to park along the road.

Brainard is an hour’s drive from downtown Boulder.

The Forest Service may discourage hiking the Long Lake and Mitchell Creek trails as late as mid June due to snow drifts, slush or muddy conditions on the trail by closing the parking lots to the trailheads. Check before you go by calling ahead.

There are pit toilets in the parking lot and the road all the way to the trailhead is paved. Dogs are allowed on leash, and this is strictly enforced. As of 2010, there is a $9 entrance fee per passenger car that is good for five days.

The hike:

This hike is one of the most scenic alpine hikes near Boulder, and if you’re a fan of it, you can’t wait for the snow to melt and the mud to dry in early summer so you can go all the way to Isabel Lake or even the top of Pawnee Pass. Lush green forests of pine and fir are framed by the snow-covered Indian Peaks above: Pawnee Peak to the north, Shoshoni in the middle, Navajo and Arikaree Peak to its south, and the smoother-topped and grassy Mount Albion flanking the trail to the south. At the base of the mountains is Isabel Lake and Isabel Glacier, which fills in summer and cascades down in the form of small waterfalls and brooks lined with green grasses and wildflowers.

The Isabel Glacier trail, which is accessed at the Long Lake trailhead, ends at the glacier 2 miles from the parking lot and intersects with the Pawnee Pass trail at that point. The first 1-1/2 miles up the trail are easy, with little elevation gain and a sandy trail with the occasional tree roots to watch for. The trail passes through thick pine and fir forest whose floor is lush and green in mid-summer. Long Lake will be to the south next to the trail, then later a few small meadows afford a nice view of the Indian Peaks on your way up.

At the second wooden sign for the Isabel Glacier the trail begins to gain elevation and the path becomes rocky. You’ll have to cross a waterfall on a small bridge and a few hundred feet further up, you’ll be skipping wet rocks to cross another waterfall (bring waterproof boots). Lake Isabel is over the crest past the falls—deep, dark and flowing. You may see snow banks in the crevices of the mountain peaks as late as mid-July, and you may even walk across the slushy remains of the “glacier” as you reach the lake.

Beyond and above the lake is a long, rocky climb up to Pawnee Pass that is moderate in difficulty due to the elevation gain and switchbacks. You’ll pass a rock fall where you may spot pikas or marmots. At the top, you’ll be near the Continental Divide and rewarded with a view of the lake below, Boulder to the east, and believe it or not, Lake Granby directly west and below the Pass. It’s hard to believe that Lake Granby is so close to Nederland and Boulder, since the only two ways of getting there from the Front Range by car is a long drive up I-70 and Berthold Pass, or over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. As the crow flies, however, it’s closer than you may realize.

The New Cosmology

As you reach Lake Isabel, ponder the following essay on the evolutionary role of humans.

Scientific discoveries in the last two centuries have allowed us new and amazing insight into who we are as human beings and our role on Earth. These discoveries have necessitated the telling of a new story of our origins and the purpose of our presence in the world. The old story of creation, based on religious doctrine that’s thousands of years old and adapted by Western culture, is that humans are the pinnacle of existence on Earth, that all the world’s creatures were created for our use, enjoyment and “dominion.” We are told that we are God’s favored creation and that our role is to create a loving and compassionate society to serve God, so that we may further honor and worship Him in the afterlife.

In this old story, originating mostly in monotheistic religions, humans are favored creatures apart and separate from the rest of nature. We are tasked with either caring for our more-than-human friends (in the form of “management”) or we’re given authority to use natural resources for our livelihood and prosperity in order to “go forth, be fruitful and multiply.” This paradigm has resulted in placing human endeavors as a priority over the wellbeing and health of forests, animals and oceans. It elevates the economy as the ends to justify the means, with ecology in service to the human economy.

The consequences of such a paradigm have been disastrous. Species loss on the scale of 20,000 per year, world-wide soil degradation, fresh water shortages and climate change are just a few examples of evidence that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the picture.

The question then arises, why did human beings evolve in the first place? If our presence on Earth is so destructive, where have we gone wrong? What is really our true story and purpose? Perhaps the answers lie in the new story of creation, a story that places humans at the razor’s edge of evolution and reveals a greater directive—only if we have the courage and determination to face the truth squarely and accept responsibility.

Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist and author, tells a new story of creation based on the last century’s scientific discoveries. (See www.brianswimme.org)

The new story starts with a flash, an explosion. It starts with the birth of the known Universe during known time—13.6 billion years ago. That’s how long ago astronomers and physicists calculate the Big Bang took place. Shortly after that moment, all that existed in space was light and energy, which eventually coalesced into matter. This matter created stars, which in turn created their own source of light and energy.

Stars have a life cycle, just like anything else. Throughout their life cycle, stars actually create elements such as hydrogen, phosphorus and oxygen. In the later stages of their life cycles, stars create iron, and since iron can’t be burned up, the star no longer can hold back its gravity. It collapses in on itself. In a split second, it goes from being a massive cauldron of energy to a tiny spec, and then explodes outward. This is called a supernova. It is the death of a star, and it is at this exact moment that the star creates its last element—carbon.

For life to even exist on Earth, carbon had to be present. Therefore, a star had to die in order for life to evolve. All of life on earth contains carbon. Without carbon, not even bacteria would exist.  You can think of living forms on Earth as the further evolution of a star. The elements in our bodies, including oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, originated in space billions of years ago when stars formed, transformed and died. Stars created the building blocks to life itself.

The Earth reflects the evolutionary process of the Universe, a process of which we are a part. Humans are not elevated above all species as we were told in the old story of creation. We are simply at the tip of evolution’s arrow, the tip of the arrow of time, an arrow that has traveled the path of ever-increasing complexity and interconnectedness from its origins 13.6 billion years ago.

Here’s something else to think about: Life existed for 3.5 billion years before creatures evolved eyesight. The ability to see isn’t necessary for life. So why did life evolve eyes? Furthermore, why did it evolve a brain, or a consciousness?

This is the mystery that is endlessly fascinating and unanswerable. It is examined within the context of Brian Swimme’s writings and also in anthropologist Loren Eisley’s book, The Immense Journey. If life doesn’t need eyes or a brain to survive and thrive (bacteria and single-celled organisms don’t, for example), why is it that life developed refinements with respect to the senses? Some animals have hearing and eyesight ten or a hundred times more acute than ours. We have the largest mental capacity of all mammals. Other life forms may have evolved communication that is beyond our capacity to perceive or understand.

One might say that the imperative of life is to simply survive and reproduce, but if that were really the case, then wouldn’t evolution just stop at single-celled organisms or bacteria? They are very efficient at reproduction.

Perhaps life itself wanted to deepen its understanding and awareness of itself and its origins. It wanted to see more, hear more and sense more. Ultimately, in the form of humans on Earth, life is now able to contemplate itself, look light years beyond the boundaries of our solar system, ponder the past and future, touch and examine not just everything within our immediate grasp but also rocks and soil from the moon and nearby planets. We as humans have a capacity to care deeply for one another and for the Earth itself. We can have spiritual experiences and feel wonder and a communion with things beyond our immediate grasp.

One of the theories about why we developed and evolved as humans was that a genetic mutation in our evolutionary past slowed down our rate of development. We remain children much longer than any other mammal species. This makes us more dependent on our parents for guidance and education, but also prolongs the period during which we feel wonder and curiosity about the world. We aren’t born with instincts. We must learn everything we need to know about how to survive in the world from our parents and our society. We are who we are and we know what we know because of 200,000 years of human culture that has been passed down to each generation, through books, stories, art or tradition.

If stars evolved into humans in order to be self-aware, what is our purpose as human beings in the Universe? Right now we are living at a time of a great mass extinction, one that happens only once every 100 million years. In the past, these cataclysmic events took place because of external forces: asteroid impacts, super volcanoes, rapid climate change, advancing and receding glaciers. This time, however, humans are the primary driving force behind this latest extinction. We have displaced species, destroyed habitats and polluted our oceans, lakes and rivers. If the arrow of evolution has led to this moment, why is this happening? Is it because we are simply a transient species, soon to be extinct ourselves to make room for a more complex, even more perceptive beings?

There’s simply no reason to think that the “bucks stops here” (at humans) when it comes to evolution. Everything is constantly in flux. Millions of species of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles have come and gone since the dawn of creation. The only thing we can surmise from looking at the past is that things change constantly and evolution tended toward more complex, more aware life forms. Sometimes the experiments failed, and sometimes they persisted. Where evolution goes next is unknown.

Our challenge now is to identify our true role, thereby creating a new society of humans who live with the Earth community, not apart from it.

The Activity

Consider that you are the end result of the Universe attempting to know itself, to see itself, to perceive itself.

What do you think is human’s role in the Universe?

Do you think that because animals have evolved to be increasingly more complex and aware, evolution has a purpose? What do you think that purpose is?

Really think on the idea that YOU are the Universe, and that you are now seeing, feeling and hearing yourself for the first time. You are awakening to the end result of billions of years of change, upheaval, death, birth, and adaptation. You are perceiving creation, the force of life and change. How do you see the Earth and all its creatures and landscapes? What would you change in the future? What would you keep the same?

Knowing there are forces of destruction on Earth, whether man-made or natural, that are creating great changes in the ecology of the planet, how does it make you feel to know that you are living at such a time? Does it frighten you or empower you?

What do you think is your personal role in the evolution of the planet at this point in time? In other words, what do you think you’re supposed to do with your time on Earth?