Yesterday I received the following letter from Tom Atlee, sent to his subscriber list, which warmed my heart with positive resonance.  Tom is the founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute, author of The Tao of DemocracyUsing Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All, and has been a visionary activist for decades.  I regard him as a Dharmagaian Ally.

This letter is addressed to “a community organizer and networker who is overwhelmed by the potential impact of global crises on his community.”  I imagine that a lot of activists feel overwhelmed, despondent, exhausted, etc., at the moment.  I have my moments of feeling this way too.  I was heartened by Tom’s well-informed evolutionary worldview and his honest self-reflection on how to get out of the linear, dualistic box of optimistic/pessimistic expectations regarding what’s really going on in the world.  Tom’s co-creative wisdom perspective seems especially needed right now, so I am pleased to offer it here, with Tom’s blessings.  Thank you, Tom.

Crisis Fatigue and the Co-Creation of Positive Possibilities

Tom Atlee

by Tom Atlee

November 20, 2010

A letter to a community organizer and networker overwhelmed by the potential impact of global crises on his community.

Dear John,

You might consider something I’m thinking of calling crisis-fatigue. Like battle fatigue or compassion fatigue. I think its main ingredient is ambiguity-fatigue. It is exhausting to continually contemplate potentially massive threats from a place of radical uncertainty littered with certainties that blink on and off…

How does one respond to this in anything approaching a sane way? I struggle with this all the time. At least a few things have become obvious to me. These strategies are remarkably consistent with what you’d expect the requisites would be for living in a complex, chaotic, unpredictable system:

1) Let go of outcome. Since we’re not in charge (and never really were), admit that what happens is much bigger than any of us. It seems we need to be willing to die, willing for everyone around us to suffer, willing to fail at every attempt to make the world better or to understand or to be understood, or to even grow and learn from all this. Let it all go. (I do not mean that we should expect, encourage or welcome such undesirable outcomes. I mean we can want or envision positive outcomes even as we appreciate the fullness of life with or without them. Honoring our desires without being controlled by them clarifies our minds and frees us to be fully present. I know of few forces more powerfully benign than passionate engagement without attachment.)

2) Come to terms with our own intrinsic participation in Whatever Happens. Not only are we not in control, we’re not un-involved. Our role in Whatever Happens isn’t something we can escape. (One consolation is we aren’t alone. Everyone and everything is co-creating Whatever Happens.) This is hard for us to come to terms with because it looks so much like the guilt-based responsibility upon which our society is based (“Everything is not my fault!”); but it is a totally different thing.

Guilt-based responsibility is part of the linear cause-and-effect worldview. (“Who’s responsible/ guilty/ blameworthy?” is the social equivalent of the scientists’ question, “What’s the cause?”) But blame can’t fathom the complexity of What Happens in a living/chaotic system. Phenomena arise from the whole, from the system itself. Those who stand by when events happen are creating a context for those events to unfold in the way they do — even when they are miles away obliviously watching a sitcom. Even inanimate objects are participants: Roads are participating in the death of pollinators (by replacing trees and meadows, by enabling the transport of pesticides, by contributing to ozone depletion). Everything participates. It is pointless to point. The route to better conditions is through increased awareness of the whole, and a more radically expansive sense of all our roles. This includes the previous item — letting go — because co-creation means we’re not in charge of outcomes, we’re just vitally important participants in influencing them.

3) Look for positive possibilities and ways to partner them into greater probability. Meg Wheatley and David Spangler taught me about living in a world of possibilities. We could say, inspired by the poet Muriel Rukeyser, that the universe is made of possibilities, not atoms. They are everywhere. They are everything. Some say God (or the devil) is in the details. I say God (and the devil) are in the possibilities. Every moment is filled with them. Although we don’t get to control how they turn out, they are very responsive to our actions, our beliefs, our caring. That is the edge of co-creativity where Life resides most vividly.

Some say it is narcissistic to think we are playing a role in everything. This is true if we’re talking about a linear world of cause-and-effect responsibility. But I see reality as bigger than linear. I see it as an infinite, infinitesimally dense web of co-creation, a sea of mutual participation. Spangler has called this “a co-incarnational universe” — everything is bringing everything else into existence.

So we join with everyone and everything — past, present and future — in sharing influence on what happens. We are neither guilty nor innocent. Rather, we are consciously or unconsciously involved. In everything. Our actions matter. Our awareness matters. Right here and right now. Because we are a factor in the Life of Everything.

This ultimate application of the admonition “Think Globally, Act Locally” points towards what we might call “participatory responsibility.” Are we playing the best role we can imagine, given the limits of (our infinitely expandable) awareness?

I think this is what I am asked to do: To care about the larger whole and all the Life within it, and to act in my own life with the purest awareness and intention that I can muster towards being a worthy participant in the unfolding of positive possibilities for all, for the whole. Of course, I fail at this, over and over. And within those failures are more positive possiblities for me to find and engage…

So I look for the positive possibilities in the crises we face. On the one hand, I sometimes feel that our chances are slim and that ultimately it is only by the grace of God that “we will make it” (whatever that means to each of us). On the other hand, I realize how much we often undermine our chances by losing touch with our intrinsically co-creative role in the unfolding of every one of these potential crises, in the fate of the possibilities that are there. That role includes inspiring each other, evoking our best selves, calling forth the best possibilities no matter how small. That is the essence of participatory leadership. We can each do that — for ourselves, for each other, for the world.

Faced with a wall, a man said to his comrade,

“We can go no further.” His comrade said,

“But there is a crack in the wall.” The man

said, “But the wall is so large and the crack

is so small.” To which his comrade said, “A

crowbar in the crack, and we’ll be on our way.

Or set a few seeds in it, and they’ll take that

wall down for us in God’s good time. Which

shall it be?” They were soon on their way.


We are the faces and fingers and feet of the God of Possibility. It is through our participation — although not only through our participation — that God (or the Goddess, or the Tao, or Life) works wonders.

This is easy to visualize if we remember that it is through our hands, but not only through our hands, that we work our own wonders.

Our efforts and caring — even when we “fail” — provide a changed context for the efforts and caring of others elsewhere, tomorrow. The Whole evolves through our roles, through the active Being of each and every one of us.

This is

Stephen Coburn: Earth Linked Hands

• bigger than taking personal responsibility,

• bigger than letting others take care of us,

• bigger than taking care of each other,

• bigger than setting up institutions to care for people,

• bigger than realizing the role of history and environment and culture in how we all behave,

• bigger than knowing that inaction and action are both forms of participation,

• bigger than being aware of the upside and downside of every form of participation (and taking action anyway).

It is each and every one of these things, and more. It is all true. It is all real. But it is only possible to enter this Reality to the extent we let go of outcome and become more compassionate, eager, aware agents of Positive Possibility.

So what is possible here in these emerging crises for us, for those we love, for our communities, our societies, our world? Do the chances look slim? Do the outcomes seem impossible to grasp? Often they do. But isn’t that what makes life an adventure?

Some people say that’s why we stay alive, from day to day: to find out what happens next. All games and adventures are built out of uncertainty (if we knew what would happen, we’d soon lose interest). Humans thrive on challenge, on the unknown.

True, we can have too much challenge, too much uncertainty. However, if we look closely, we’ll find that that only happens when we’ve become too attached to outcomes. In the moment of that realization, our challenge becomes “How well can we learn to let go and stay engaged?” That’s a real trick. The real trick.

To be alive is to find out what’s possible, to see how far we can push/cajole/invite the flow of reality into the channels of positive possibility.

Which is often hard. I want to see a better, more sustainable, more humane, more meaningful culture. I have often felt that we don’t have much of a chance of getting it. Too often, the more I learned, the more the social and psychological dynamics seemed stacked against us. And then I’d encounter a new innovation, some unexpected allies, or a sudden turn of events that opened doors I didn’t even know existed.

I’ve come to believe that things are getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster, simultaneously.

And so I’ve found myself bouncing back and forth between optimism and pessimism. “Things are going to work out well.” Or: “There’s going to be real disaster!” It’s been really exhausting.

Spectators © Michelle Waters michellewatersart.com

But lately something’s changing about all this. I’ve begun to notice how the whole optimism/pessimism dichotomy is a death trap for my aliveness and attention. I watch myself acting as if my sense of what might happen is a description of reality. And what I notice is this: whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act.

That’s so important I’m going to repeat it. Whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act.

I’ve started viewing both optimism and pessimism as spectator sports, as forms of disengagement masquerading as involvement. Both optimism and pessimism trick me into judging life and betting on the odds, rather than diving into life with my whole self, with my full co-creative energy. I think the emerging crises call us to transcend such false end-games like optimism and pessimism. I think they call us to act like a spiritually healthy person who has just learned they have heart disease: We can use each dire prognosis as a stimulant for reaching more deeply into life and co-creating positive change.

And so I’ve come to conclude that all the predictions — both good and bad — tell us absolutely nothing about what is possible. Trends and events only relate to what is probable. Probabilities are abstractions. Possibilities are the stuff of life, visions to act upon, doors to walk through. Pessimism and optimism are both distractions from living life fully.

More and more, I’m seeing myself as an ally or midwife of positive possibilities. Those possibilities need me to help them move towards becoming real. True, we often need miracles, but miracles can only go so far. Miracles need us to meet them halfway. I’m trying to move as far towards the miracles as I can, and draw them out.

I’ll probably never know if I’ve moved far enough, if we have moved far enough. But the movement, itself, is so alive I can hardly stand it. And I keep meeting incredible companions like you (whose value to me evoked this response), and doing unbelievable things together. The world could not be more filled with possibilities than it is now. On the wind I smell good food cooking out there somewhere. My appetite for what could be lifts me to the road again, over and over, where I get covered with dust, tired, sore and discouraged. And then I smell it again, and the sun rises.

Coheartedly,

Tom

© Joe Riley

PS: A note on wisdom, related to this, which I just found in papers I was cleaning up (heaven knows when I wrote it, among all these stacks of paper)… “I see God in the infinitely complex and co-creative power of nature. When Jesus said we should be like the lilies of the field, he was surely inviting us to sit there and gaze at the clouds. But perhaps he meant more, as well. Perhaps he was inviting us to participate in the wholesome patterns of nature woven from strands of wisdom laid by the hands of a wise God and/or by the trials of four billion years of evolution. We people can never hope to replace this wisdom with some substitute derived from our own intrinsically small-picture intelligence. But we can learn and follow this natural wisdom. This insight informs permaculture and aikido, as well as meditators.”

PPS: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my own thinking here. I hope it is of some use to you, for it arose from my caring about you. We have a very long and amazing road to go yet.

Also see Tom’s extraordinary poem Extra Ordinary Days.


  • Susie Vincent:

    Firstly, to acknowledge that these are strange times – Suzanne your call for response to threads on this blog was quite justified.

    What is it? Everything seems to be speeding up to the point where just fitting the essential things into our lives seems to become more and more challenging. My own reading habits have become more like factory processing – I skim the essentials and work down the pile. Writing a proper email gets relegated to a monthly occurrence. Six months ago, I scanned the web looking for enlightened writings about the Now. Now, I skim the headlines and flick the article on to others. I am even becoming suspicious of the web altogether, seeing it sometimes as a virtual reality that may even detract from my attention to this real world in ways I don’t fully grasp.

    Regarding the co-creation of positive possibilities, I’m hearing words such as these becoming a widespread mantra – in many places. And also I’m hearing, ‘it’s time to stop grizzling and do something’, ‘it’s time to create a movement for change’. And what I’m talking about is different from, for example, the incendiary outrage in Haiti against the disgraceful failure to rally by those with the power to assist (Haitians Barricading Streets with Coffins as Protests against U.N. Continue over Cholera Outbreak), or even the brave efforts of those suffering appalling conditions in the Gulf to draw attention to their plight (http://www.projectgulfimpact.org/2010/11/20/gulf-residents-roar-with-awareness-events-across-the-country-today/).

    I am also not talking about the essential movements for food self reliance, transition towns, off-grid currencies or any such initiatives, but of a mass movement making that statement that so critically needs to be made: that hundreds of millions of people are Mad as Hell and Just Wont Take This Any More http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMBZDwf9dok (and it is really worth revisiting Peter Finch’s marvelous rant, and reminding us what unrestrained outrage actually looks like. It’s inspiring.)

    However, if there is a co-creative movement to be made, it hasn’t quite formed itself into a Next Step anywhere in the world, as far as I can see. However, I am hopeful. I think the Big Sleep will soon be over.

    Maybe there is a hint or two in astrology. Neptune (fog and delusion amongst the unenlightened) has been in Aquarius (the sign representing society) since beginning of 1998 and will start leaving early April 2011. From Eric Francis, astrologer – mentioned elsewhere on your blog:

    “I have long viewed Neptune in Aquarius as a decade of public delusion. Politics is often a game based on deception and manipulation, and this reached some soaring heights with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to a period of unmitigated greed and psychic chaos. Think of the events that followed — the Nasdaq crash (the burst of the dot-com bubble), the mysterious election when Al Gore won, Bush took office and all that happened was a movie got made about it. Then there was Sept. 11 and not one but two Vietnams got started on pretenses you might believe if you drank a quart of cough syrup — and for the most part everyone fell for it. On and on it went. During this phase, the Internet went from being a technological advance to a mass public dream — well illustrated by Neptune in Aquarius.”

    Denials-of-convenience – and also an astonishing willingness to completely bypass facts – seem to characterize these 10-12 years. Perhaps the easiest time in history to con the public? The cons that were perpetrated before the ‘information revolution’ are one thing – but to be conned while actually knowing the truth, in an era during which whistle-blowing was not always the crime it is now becoming – that is really curious.

    The time of facing reality, seeing and admitting what is really happening, has to come. This is not a theoretical position, or a philosophical position – it’s an experiential position. And I guess that it’s a personal position as well as a political/public one. To look at our lives squarely and fully in the face and ask whether we are truly living with integrity in relation to the choices we make – truly facing the realities of our lives, the facts of our lives. Whatever we are denying on a personal level is, I feel, contributing to the toxic soup by dint of sheer energetic complicity.

    I found The Burden of Knowing, by Charles Hugh Smith http://carolynbaker.net/content/view/1847/1/ said quite a lot to me. He talks very plainly of ‘artifice and lies’, tracking this back to moments in history very poignantly.
    “One of the most chilling stories to emerge from China’s Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early 60s–in which peasants were instructed to “make steel” by melting down their metal farming and cooking tools, leaving them to starve in countless millions–involves the artifices presented to Mao to cover up the grotesque consequences of his policies.
    Communist party officials fearful of Mao’s ire and losing their own perquisites arranged to have a specific route through the countryside planted thickly with rice. Five meters deep on each side of this road, rice was planted so closely that it appeared to be the very acme of abundance; the road was seemingly a thin ribbon of pavement cut through endless green abundance.
    It was all artifice and lies. While the officials pointed out the phony bounty to Mao, tens of millions of peasants were starving to death. Behind the five meters of contrived abundance lay a barren landscape.
    The American media and Savior State are busy planting their own five meters of apparent abundance and “growth” along every highway in the land. “

    I am writing from New Zealand, while still campaigning against the astonishing stupidity of our current government as it steadily removes environmental protections and increases the illegitimate surveillance and dis-empowerment of people. The erosion of human rights and environmental standards that we fought for over decades has happened very fast everywhere in the world since 9/11 – and even the ones we had were far short of complete.

    I’m not adding anything constructive to this thread, I know. I’m spreading doom and gloom. It may be, as many suggest, that ‘only disaster will shift this paradigm’. But actually, what I think is seriously lacking is some common space in which a very large number of people can gather virtually and express the common outrage that must be spoken in order to make change an imperative.

    Individuals everywhere – perhaps even in Tom Atlee’s piece – are using the word ‘we’, when as yet there is no ‘we’. The ‘we’ space is almost an Avaaz, but not quite; it’s a movement, a big one, and while I don’t know how it’s going to be coordinated, it has to be coordinated, and it has to start to be coordinated very soon indeed. And while I have absolutely no idea how – perhaps this is a time to be very much more confident in human beings, and to make some assumptions around a collective, so that in some way, this collective can be fully born.

    Salutations
    Susie Vincent
    Auckland, New Zealand

  • Hi Susie,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and informed response. You seem to still have hope for a “mass movement” that will demonstrate that “hundreds of millions of people are Mad as Hell and Just Wont Take This Any More.” You say, “what I think is seriously lacking is some common space in which a very large number of people can gather virtually and express the common outrage that must be spoken in order to make change an imperative,” and “it’s a movement, a big one, and while I don’t know how it’s going to be coordinated, it has to be coordinated, and it has to start to be coordinated very soon indeed. And while I have absolutely no idea how – perhaps this is a time to be very much more confident in human beings, and to make some assumptions around a collective, so that in some way, this collective can be fully born.”

    I think a lot of people still think this is possible – a mass uprising in which “the people” stand together for significant change, as “we” did to defeat slavery and win the vote for women and for African Americans. I know of people who still hold the hope that this will happen – in order to adequately address climate change, peak oil and biodiversity decline – or to prepare for economic and resource contraction, or the disintegration of Western civilization, etc.

    Personally, I don’t hold this hope any longer. I think it is too late for an effective mass movement, which is the reason that I favor the kind of responses that John Michael Greer, Chris Martenson and Tom Atlee propose – small scale, local, personal and intimate – that is face-to-face with ourselves, our families, communities, and Nature.

    There are several reasons that I no longer have hope for a mass movement. The main reason is that democracy and the free press, which is essential to democracy, have been subverted and taken over by corporate power, as Chris Hedges’ latest articles on Truthdig.com have spelled out quite well. I have watched “business” become bigger and more powerful throughout my lifetime. Now we have mega-corporations determining policy at every level everywhere – globally, nationally, in universities, and now even in doctors’ offices.

    The reason that “the people” can’t get it together – the hope of the 1960′s – is that the media are now controlled by large corporations, which keep people confused and distracted. Print and television journalism are contaminated by their corporate bosses’ commercial agendas. Internet sources of information are not mainstream, and if corporate elites and the Pentagon have anything to say about it, the freedom of the internet will not last much longer.

    Much of this contamination has occurred while Neptune has been in Aquarius, as you noted in relation to “the Big Sleep” and “public delusion.” You say, “perhaps this is a time to be very much more confident in human beings, and to make some assumptions around a collective.” But as I look at the United States at this time, what I see is fragmentation and bickering – and few people who can see the Big Picture. In Holland, where I live, “the movement” is very small, nearly underground, and doesn’t appear to even try to wake the country from the Big Sleep of consumerism. Herd mentality here is even more deeply entrenched than in the US.

    You know, CG Jung was very skeptical of the potential for sanity in large masses of people. Masses of people can be easily manipulated, as we have seen historically. Under corporate control, totalitarianism and fascism are more likely than reform, as Hedges has argued.

    The problem is that there are too many people on the planet (population overshoot) and resources are dwindling fast. Personally, I have more confidence in human beings when they live close to the Earth in small tribes and villages, and considerably less when they live in large cities, which is where 80%± of human beings live now.

    I’m not saying “resistance is futile” in relation to the dehumanizing, ecocidal corporate juggernaut. But to be safe, and to keep our human integrity and sanity intact, I think resistance starts with spiritual resistance within, and then is shared carefully and consciously among those who can be trusted to seek “positive possibilities.” This is often at the local, face-to-face level. That’s what I think Tom Atlee and Chris Hedges are talking about. (See Hedges’ Power and the Tiny Acts of Rebellion)

    Do you see what I mean?

    Best wishes,

    Suzanne

  • Susie Vincent:

    Oh heavens yes! I definitely see what you mean!

    The legend, the ‘predictive myth of our time’ goes as follows:
    1. There will be a major, and even orchestrated financial collapse, followed by draconian austerity measures/empty supermarkets/serious poverty and many deaths
    2. The people will engage in violent resistance
    3. There will be drastic, punitive measures to constrain them
    4. World government wins
    5. Small numbers of people manage to get off the grid
    6. Beyond this, all is uncertain.

    I can see it happening now, like I’m turning the pages of a book. And at the same time, I can’t bear to subscribe to it!
    . . . I wonder . . . is even my not being able to bear to subscribe to it, part of the Neptunian fog?

  • Susie V., this is definitely one of the predictive myths of our time. I don’t subscribe to ALL of it – I don’t see “world government” (ie, global elites) winning because I think peak oil and the collapse of the global economy might intervene in that. Maybe that’s a hope! But it’s all a matter of timing and I think it’s too complex for any set of people to control that.

    I wonder: What is it that you can’t bear to subscribe to? The many human deaths? What happens if civilization just falls apart and there is no feudalism or fascism, but humans just have to grub around in social chaos and climate chaos, destroying ecosystems until the planet is denuded of other life forms? Would that be better?

    Do you really think that a mass movement of sane people, globally, will get the ‘masters of the universe’ off their thrones?

    Suzanne D.

  • Susie Vincent:

    Dear Suzanne
    Ha! What I can’t bear to subscribe to? The extinction of the tiger, the conversion of the world’s forests into golf courses, the continual, sustained abuse of power when still, in my view, the potential for ‘virtuous conspiracy’ between the people who oppose it in their hearts and minds is still very far from being taken up. To me, this is still a conundrum. I think this is still possible, even in the darkest hour.

    I love Atlee’s words:
    To be alive is to find out what’s possible, to see how far we can push/cajole/invite the flow of reality into the channels of positive possibility.
    He says, we fail, we fall down, we get up again.
    And he says – we don’t know how we’re contributing to outcome, don’t let’s flail around in guilt if our worldwork doesn’t seem to come off, this is a huge net and it’s not all about one single thread. He is targeting the exhausted bodhisattva, but to all of us, I think he says, engage, engage, engage, with what is there, all opportunities to create positive change, do our best – and keep smelling the roses.

    And from Atlee’s poem linked from the article:
    And now I’ll whisper this last:
    (For the sake of the children:
    Let’s wake up
    together
    in the very next extraordinary day
    that so much needs and wants us awake.)
    Whether it’s merely due to my Aries Moon, I feel we have to engage in resistance. (Astonishing that ‘resistance’ has become a kind of terrorist word, even our language is increasingly disempowering us!) As the little Scottish nun heaving her rowboat directly into the path of a massive nuclear ship in a Scottish harbor thought – how is God’s will going to be done except through humans? Through me?

    We have to oppose corrupt power, and also, without cynicism, and particularly in America, reinstate in our language that primary principle of the supreme power being vested in the people (who may govern themselves, or elect officials to do it for them). But I think to even come close to the idea of governing ourselves involves looking at our relationship to power.

    Whoever the overt perpetrators, it is said that we’ve all played a part in this crisis, been present to it and contributed in some way. And while the inference from this is that every human needs to switch to eco products, I feel that equally, the wheels of this multifarious crisis have been greased by a great passivity in the human realm – and that this is reversible. And in any event, if we are ever to recreate a workable world, many more people need to claim the power to ‘govern themselves’.

    Power is a curious principle, hardly anyone can handle it. Working with leadership, I saw that most professional folks had great difficulty with the principle of power – as though ‘power’ was Frodo’s ring: a hot potato, a loaded gun, corrupting, not nice to be known by, or else something to be wielded for self protection or political gain, and I felt – this is so clearly something people have to grow into, something that involves a journey to discover. (Power is a sacred trust. It can be a sacred journey.)

    If we do not fully claim our power and potential as a human, or a human community, then we create a vacuum, into which any rogue can walk (and likewise if we have no vision of our own, we get television). If people are using power against us, then our first recourse needs to be to ask how far we have cleared the field for them to do this. Every plug needs a socket. When there is abuse of power it is also about how far the ‘disempowered’ have decommissioned their power –- whether intellectual, social, cultural, physical or political, or the affective power to inspire, enrich, nurture or create, or the power of initiation, or wisdom, or knowledge or eldership. Not dead – not even traded away – just somehow decommissioned. It’s still there, it’s huge, and I think at the moment, it’s like frozen capital – and it needs to be thawed.

    The people in the Gulf of Mexico are not suffering only because of Corexit, or because all of this is in the hands of irresistible forces. They are suffering because 30 million other people in America haven’t expressed their outrage.

  • Dear Susie! Thank you for expanding this discussion further! Well done!

    The question seems to be about the “conundrum” of why people don’t exercise their democratic power and seek the ‘positive possibilities’ of resisting the outrages and atrocities of abusive power. This question is frequently asked and explored by activists in the forums that I read. For example, on Energy Bulletin and the Post Carbon Institute, which recently created an image called ‘Conundrum’ with road signs pointing every which way. The blogs listed in the Cassandra Club also address this question frequently. There are actually studies reported lately in ‘evolutionary psychology’ that try to identify the deep instinctive patterns that account for, eg., people ‘discounting the future’ (not raising their gaze to the horizon to see what’s coming), and other behaviors that prevent comprehension of the Big Picture of where our species is at this time.

    You say, “I think to even come close to the idea of governing ourselves involves looking at our relationship to power…. the wheels of this multifarious crisis have been greased by a great passivity in the human realm – and that this is reversible. And in any event, if we are ever to recreate a workable world, many more people need to [re]claim the power to ‘govern themselves’.” I completely agree. This was discussed in astrological terms, btw, in Power and the Collective:
    Pluto in Leo—We get what we need
    . This was an article by Henny Rückert, a German astrologer, that I edited in English. Henny predicts that ‘the people’ will be forced, so to speak, by events to reclaim and manifest their power and that the astrology will support this. The section on Neptune in Aquarius discusses how the public will be provoked to see through deception and look for the truth.

    You say, “Power is a curious principle, hardly anyone can handle it…. this is so clearly something people have to grow into, something that involves a journey to discover. (Power is a sacred trust. It can be a sacred journey.) … If people are using power against us, then our first recourse needs to be to ask how far we have cleared the field for them to do this. Every plug needs a socket. When there is abuse of power it is also about how far the ‘disempowered’ have decommissioned their power.”

    Some of the socio-political factors that have played into rendering the Euro-American public supine since WWII have been brilliantly explored in Adam Curtis’ multi-part video series The Century of the Self and his The Power of Nightmares. These are both about the manipulation of the public’s psyche, and to me they explain a lot about the role of the media in controlling public response, or lack thereof, to abuses of power.

    My article Demons in our Midst: Facing the Tyrant Inside and Out explores the question of how and why we submit to or collude with abuses of power from a depth psychology perspective.

    Thank you, Susie, for bringing up all these excellent questions and observations. I like your images of a ‘virtuous conspiracy’ and of ‘frozen capital’ that needs to be thawed. I would love to see a virtuous resistance movement discredit and disempower the corporate stranglehold on power. But I am reminded of Tom Atlee’s first requirement “for living in a complex, chaotic, unpredictable system”: “Let go of outcome.” And: “2) Come to terms with our own intrinsic participation in Whatever Happens.” And: “3) Look for positive possibilities and ways to partner them into greater probability.”

  • Hildy Maze - USA:

    I agree with Suzanne D. completely. There are more and more articles coming out each day (which Chris Hedges summarizes perfectly) proving your points. People are way too chaotic, misinformed, anxiety-ridden and – yes, in crisis-fatigue – to form any cohesive rebellion – not to mention there aren’t any leaders or truly organized movements. Plus, the powers that be are more powerful than we can possibly imagine. It is worse each and every day. My sense is to hold our seat as witnesses, stay informed, help ourselves and those that are willing to listen in any way possible.

    With Kindness
    Hildy Maze
    East Hampton,NY, USA

  • This conversation dances in the difference between possibilities and probabilities. Given so many of the social and environmental indicators and trends, the probability of a new civilization being born seems very small, indeed. In contrast, the positive possibilities are mind-boggling. Where shall we put our attention and life energy?

    Furthermore, everything we see as an obstacle or a problem or a crisis is a disturbance/dissonance pointing us toward what needs to change and what is struggling to emerge. Evolution teaches us that disturbance precedes every evolutionary leap. The difference now is that we are conscious of this — or can be — and that our consciousness — our awareness, our intelligence, our compassion, our insight, our choices — is now a player on the evolutionary stage. What use shall we make of it? How can we enhance our individual and collective and whole-system intelligence and wisdom and choice so it can more profoundly play its evolutionary role? How shall we use our consciousness to catalyze crisis into the evolutionary leap that wants so so so much to happen? If we fail, our part of the game is over. If we succeed, Earth will become something more vibrant, alive, and aware than it has ever been before — a seamless organism woven of nature, humanity, and technology self-evolving in full resonance.

    Contrary to some statements in this dialogue, I do not prefer local efforts to whole-system efforts. In fact, I tend to be biased towards efforts to change the larger systems — the political systems, the economic systems, the cultural stories, the technologies in broad use, etc. But I have that bias only because so precious little of activist attention is actually focused on transforming the SYSTEMS. So much more focuses on protest, on helping the needy, on trying to forestall or repair destruction — i.e., on the symptoms caused by the sick systems. But the fact of the matter is that ALL of these approaches are vital. They all fit together in ways that we only are beginning to fathom.

    We are evolution becoming conscious of itself. In that identity we are 13.7 billion years old, and we have a gigantic amount of wisdom built into and around us, and powerful urges we can use for positive transformation. The ubiquitous Co-Creative Power of the Universe rises up through our hearts and minds and hands and conversations to carry the evolutionary project forward. It is not about us. This whole situation in which we are embedded is about THAT.

  • Yes, Tom, it’s true – you do “tend to be biased towards efforts to change the larger systems — the political systems, the economic systems, the cultural stories, the technologies in broad use, etc.” I apologize if I misrepresented you. I was thinking of the citizen dialogues that you have inspired and organized when I said you talk about the local, face-to-face level. But I have been most inspired by your writings on the large-system evolutionary worldview, which are linked from my New Cosmology Links page.

    Thanks for steering this conversation back to the whole-system’s view that “everything we see as an obstacle or a problem or a crisis is a disturbance/dissonance pointing us toward what needs to change and what is struggling to emerge. Evolution teaches us that disturbance precedes every evolutionary leap.”!

    And thank you for these questions: “How can we enhance our individual and collective and whole-system intelligence and wisdom and choice so it can more profoundly play its evolutionary role? How shall we use our consciousness to catalyze crisis into the evolutionary leap that wants so so so much to happen?”

    I do think these provocative questions need to be addressed in full consciousness. I wonder if anyone here wants to comment on that.

  • Brigid Meier:

    “How can we learn to let go and stay engaged?” “Whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act.” Both of Tom Atlee’s pithy statements from his letter to an overwhelmed community organizer refer to the same conundrum: not being fully present with what is and not giving oneself 100% to one’s path. The more I hesitate or equivocate, the more I hold on. The less I let go the more rigid and paralyzed by fear or discouragement I become. It’s a debilitating loop most of us are caught in for years (or lifetimes); I certainly was and often still am.

    But until I read your heartfelt, well considered article, Tom, I didn’t actually realize that I have, to a small degree, moved on ever so slightly from this issue and have stepped into the flow of the mystery with a lot more let go and a lot less attachment to outcome than ever before. I attribute this (totally unexpected) turning of the tides to wholeheartedly embracing—to the best of my abilities and limitations—as fully sustainable a lifestyle as possible. Two and a half years ago—at age 63– I began farming organically (Tierra Drala Farm in Taos, New Mexico) and a year ago I added animals—goats and chickens and two Maremmas, livestock guardian dogs—to the mix of half an acre in cultivation, two+ acres of pasture and a 1000 s.f. greenhouse. I certainly had some expectations at the beginning of this endeavor but they quickly became subsumed under the vicissitudes of a Biblical hailstorm the first summer, a dry spell the second and the sheer daily what-is-required-ness of keeping the beings I am stewarding healthy, fed, milked, bred, housed and well cared for. Their mere existence requires I remain thoroughly engaged; tending the farm creates a relentless pragmatic demand to act that cuts through any mental hesitation on the part of my will. And in surrendering to the daily acting-out-of-necessity, the beauty of the natural world unfolds—bringing alfalfa in from the barn and changing the frozen water for fresh water at dawn is a chilly (5 degrees this morning) undertaking this season but whether the sky is crystal clear or it’s softly (or heavily) snowing, the experience is invigorating; my senses marvel at the flight of crows against the coral sunrise, startles me, fills my heart with unexpected delight. Simple surprising displays of nature like this happen throughout the day; their direct, sensate presence renews me, nourishes the intention to “ let go and stay engaged.” But one (perhaps I should just say I) must be immersed in the seemingly routine—embedded in “the web of enabling constraints” to be able to be still enough or quiet enough to receive their rejuvenating, uplifting gifts.

    In permaculture terms you could say Zones 1, 2 and 3 are in a continual reciprocal loop of nourishment with Zone 0; I give the goats alfalfa and grain, Rosie gives me milk (for kefir, yoghurt, cheese, cheesecake…). I give the chickens grain, greens and kitchen scraps; they give me golden yolked eggs. I feed the dogs and they keep the coyotes and skunks away from the goats and chickens. I am simultaneously plugged into this moment and also the rich multidimensional matrix of human agricultural/pastoral history. I keep on the lookout for lessons to learn here that might apply to social interactions but across-the-board extrapolation escapes me; I am content that there’s as much harmony going on as there is. Maybe a skillful application to politics and society will reveal itself as the Tao of Farming continues to unfold…

    Meanwhile the rest of the planet roils tumultuously along at blinding speed; since I very rarely leave the farm I tap into its permutations through the internet. I do know that if warring countries were more concerned with growing worms to build healthy, fertile soil or political demagogues kept bees, the state of the world might be otherwise. In any case, I go to the meditation cushion to allow it all to sift through empty space and to just be with what IS happening: the joy, the grief and the suffering, to allow expectations to dissolve. As an activist, my energies are focused on keeping GE crops out of Northern New Mexico. Gathering with regional Hispanic and Tribal traditional farmers to prevent contamination of their landrace chiles and native corn feels like Right Action: local but with global, multi-national implications. Vandana Shiva is my heroine. It’s taken my entire life, ever since I read Gary Snyder’s “Four Changes” in 1969 in which he advocates, “Find your place on the planet and dig in.” to get to this point of putting it all together; I am extremely grateful and consider myself to be very lucky, even at this late date, to have at last embarked. It seems this goal of moving towards sustainability has been my path all along.

    If I were living elsewhere, not on a farm, would I have even this tiny degree of hard won equanimity? Perhaps. Perhaps there’s a unique, sliding equation for every individual that works: X amount of nature plus X amount of meditation plus X amount of inquiry and reflection equals enough sanity of be able to learn to let go and stay engaged. I know having others out there such as you and other Dharmagaians even addressing the issue is immensely helpful and encouraging. I remain grateful, three days after Thanksgiving, to have found an equation that fits for me for now and my wish is for everyone to discover and implement their own.

    The following quote by the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche captures my direct felt experience with farming, with letting go yet staying engaged and says it better than I ever could:

    “The Dragon: Inscrutability is represented by the dragon. The dragon is energetic, powerful, and unwavering….According to tradition, the dragon abides in the sky in the summer, and hibernates in the ground during the winter. When the spring comes, the dragon rises from the ground with the mist and the dew. When a storm is necessary, the dragon breathes out lightning and roars out thunder. This analogy gives us some feeling of predictability within the context of unpredictability. Inscrutability is also the state of settling down in your confidence—remaining solid and relaxed at once. You are open and fearless, free from longing and doubt, but at the same time, you are very interested in the movements of the world. Your wakefulness and intelligence make you self-contained and confident with a confidence that needs no reaffirmation through feedback. So the state of inscrutability is conviction that doesn’t need confirmation. You feel a sense of genuineness, that you are not deceiving yourself or others. That notion comes from being settled.” 



  • Brigid, Thanks so much for your post. It’s wonderful to read about your way of life in northern NM and your thoughts about it. Please keep posting! And, btw, I tried to email you but it was immediately returned. Has your email address changed?

    Hugs,

    Suzanne

Leave a Reply