Friday, March 11, 2011


A generation of people face depression, despair and meaninglessness as the full significance of the resource constraints of fossil fuels, water, land and food coupled with environmental degradation and overshoot of the global population become a loud noise that can no longer be ignored. This is trauma in the true psychological meaning of the word.  

Many of us will encounter failed attempts when our efforts of the past produce no viable results. In fact, we will experience a disconnect between the then and the now. We will see no light at the end of the tunnel. Filled with the emotionality of grieving, our anger and fear will motivate our choices, narrow our tolerance and send us searching for scapegoats. Many of us will become entrenched in magical thinking and condemn the unbelieving.

This one is a guide to the changes we are going through. Trying to make sense of it.

William Bridges has written a wonderful book called Transitions (with a name like Bridges it is only appropriate). Bridges divides transitions into three parts; endings, neutral zone, beginnings. He emphasizes that we must deal with endings to have healthy beginnings. According to Bridges there are four categories that encompass how we involve in the world. These are: engagement, identity, orientation, and enchantment. They weave together in our lives.

Engagement is the multiple ways we meet the world and the world meets us; our network of kin, friends, work mates, intimates, places, things. The inner aspect of this is our identity. Identity is the working image we form of our self through outer feedback and inner self-consciousness across time. Orientation is the interaction of engagement and identity giving us a social and physical sense in time and space. Enchantment is the cloth of engagement, identity and orientation with the threads that 'this is the way the world works' as the border.

Bridges describes four disturbances experienced during endings. These lead into the transition (neutral) zone. The fundamentals of who we are get disturbed. We experience disengagement, disidentification, disorientation, disenchantment. Experiencing any one of these evokes the others. Our relationship to ourself (identity), others and the world (engagement) have been our compass and map. When we give those up we become disoriented. We don't know how we belong. We don't know where we are going. Time speeds and stands still in strange ways.

Disenchantment is the core. Disenchantment brings a sense of futility. That all we have done is a lie, useless, without meaning. The survivor self will raise his head in rage or "poor me". The defenses will scream to be used. The emptiness of disengagement, disidentification, and disorientation pales next to the feeling of meaninglessness.
What each of these areas adds up to is our vision of reality. They are built on childhood injunctions, fixed false beliefs, family relationships, cultural coloration and societal directives. As they are challenged and as they disintegrate we are thrown into emotions. Fear, or its undifferentiated aspect panic, can seize us. Anger, or its undifferentiated aspect rage, can fire us and cloak other emotions giving a false sense of power. And of course sadness.

It is important not to confuse disenchantment with disillusionment. Jane marries Sam, he abuses her. She finally leaves and then marries Joe. He abuses her. She leaves and then marries Phil. Jane is trapped in her enchantment about how the world is, what she deserves, what relationships are, women’s place, etc. She is disillusioned in each case but not disenchanted as it is being defined here. (The difference between disillusionment and disenchantment is similar to “first order” and “second order” change in Watzlawick,P.; Weakland, J; and Risch, R. 1974. Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. Norton. N.Y.)

Not all change is devastating. Moving from a negative position (say an abusive relationship or alcoholism) to a healthier lifestyle still evokes the need to know and reflect on the previous engagement, identity, orientation and enchantment. This process takes time and has its own steps. The most obvious is the lack of patience with those still contained in similar spaces.

This writing is focused on the changes forthcoming in the availability of energy and materials in our lifestyle. For some this is absolutely devastating and means the end of at least civilization or even humankind. For others this is the answer to the saving of the natural world. And of course there are the many shades in between.
On the other side of our transition, we will be engaged differently; we will fit ourselves newly into the web of our environment. We will be tender. It is important now as always to be gentle with ourselves.

On the other side of our transition, our basic core will still be ourselves. Yet the four aspects will be newly shaped. This time of transition it is very difficult because life does not stop. It is similar to at best trying to change the oil or the spark plugs in a car while driving at 60 mph down the road. So it is important to be gentle with ourselves.

We are talking about "making the river crossing". When we are on the ending or “old” side of the river, we can barely make out the other side through the fog. Where we are is familiar to us. It is the known. To cross, we take a raft. In the middle of the river, we can not see either side clearly. The raft becomes our focus. We examine its making. Perhaps, we question its soundness. We commit its structure, its smells, its sounds to memory. Once upon the other shore, we can see where we have been because the fog has lifted. The beginning is another reality. It is critical that once on the new shore that we don't carry the raft on our back. Adapted from the Philosophies of India. Heinrich Zimmer. edited by Joseph Campbell. World Publishing Co. 1951

This is simply a model. The map is not the territory. It does give some guidance and structure to a very human and very difficult process. It coupled with the awareness that most changes of any magnitude brings a grieving can help understanding. Naming is often the first step in deeper knowing.

by Portia Nelson
I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewald.
I fall in
I am lost . . . I am helpless
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it’s a habit.
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Do Lemmings Grieve?

The part of the below was written in the late 90s, I think for the old RunningOnEmpty mailing list.

Do lemmings grieve? Do they deny the cliff? Do they bargain with silicon chips or with the god of technological progress? Do they fall into the hole in their heart counting the ways to die, the percentages, the exact time? Do they rant in the face of their helplessness?
(yes, I know lemmings do not commit suicide, it is a metaphor)

I grieve. My grief is for my species. My grief is for the glory of our achievements, our soaring. My grief is for my way of life. My grief is for the next ones. And the inevitability of it all. And the spiral/cyclical nature of it all.
And my grief is deeper now. Perhaps informed by my age and the bone deep sense of my own leaving.

I have known of the population/resource depletion/environmental degradation interplay for 30 years and have taken many steps to honor it. It has been a grand adventure. Yet, the dull drag of some distant future collapse has turned into the gravity of Jupiter pulling at my insides. The peak is not the end of oil that my mind had prepared for that would have cause disruption sometime just beyond the end of my life. The peak is yesterday or today and is a shrill grinding of the machinery reacting to the cliff of no oil. Preparing like lemmings to eat,chew, bomb even nuke each other as we rush the cliff.

Today, I have dinner with two dear friends with four children who have lived similar to me (off the grid) almost as long as I have. They know the information I know. They are in deep denial. Denial is of course the psychological equivalent of the shock that the body experiences with trauma. There are little denials; there are big, life blinding denials. They, we, live in life blinding denial because it hurts deep in the marrow of our bones like a fever of 103. And we can only do this, because to come to the acceptance of the inevitability, to wrap our minds around the magnitude of the hurt takes an acceptance that I have not reached.

And we will laugh and play and kid around. We will talk about the coming gardening season (she is a master gardener). We will talk about the renewable energy and sustainable farming fair we are involved in putting on. I will tell them of my plans to build a self contained cabin on my friends land by the lake.

Will we be lying? No, we will be humans who love each other, who enjoy our lives, who are enjoying the moment as humans have done forever.

My life has been a grand adventure thus far as I said. I have dared where some would not have. I have done many things and enjoyed many people.

I love to eat greasy fried chicken. To split wood for my heating and eating. To explore new ideas and learn new things. To smoke a good joint now and again. To ride/fly my recumbent bicycle down a hill. To watch my new puppy Streak bugging my older dog, Bandit. To enjoy ecstasy with another. To hear the geese heading back to Canada. So much, so full. The joy, the humor, the sadness, the anger all of it must be inorder to honor for my own fullness.

I have tried to set up a model (not an ideal). I live using 3/4 kilowatt of electricity a day and live well. Have designed my home/land for my living today and for someone else's tomorrow. I plant fruit trees that I may never see bear. I have developed a library so just perhaps all will not be lost.

So much of the discussions on this list, on energy resources and on the old ROE had/has an implicit dream/hope of maintaining our level of living at the top of the energy pyramid. Ah, denial. Yet, there is much that can be done at a much lower level of energy consumption that can make life less brutish. A 1/2 horse power 12 volt DC motor can pump my water, grind my grain, vacumn my home. 100 gallons a year of ethanol can rototill the garden, blow snow, cut wood.

I have proposed this measure before. It is one I first saw in Odum's Energy Basis for Man and Nature. It is the Human Energy Equivalent (HEE) which is 10000 joules or 2388 kilocalories. This is the energy we need to live daily in food intake. (yes, I know that nutrition is not just quantity, it is also quality). What level above this could we use individually and in community to not have a brutish life. 10 HEEs? 20HEEs? And in suggesting that we consider this, I give away the obvious, yes, I still dream about our future. Yes, I still hold hope because that is what I do. I am human.

Since writing the above:
In February 2003, I was diagnosed with lung cancer and given little time to live and poor odds even if I did treatment. I did radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. It took almost four years to get over the debilitation of the treatment. I thrive.
My partner, now of ten years, and I are developing a orchard and truck farm. We have reconditioned an old home on the place for living and a small country store. (We live on a nearby lake). We are developing this for the next generations.

The below was written as the notes to myself for a speech at the cancer RelayForLife.

The theme is hope. To me Hope is Doing.
I am a back to the land hippie from the 60s. During treatment for the cancer, I was splitting wood because I needed to cook and heat. My neighbors did do most of it but I still need to do some.
For me, hope is not words all though the kind ones and the prayers are welcome. Hope is not statistics.
Hope is doing. It is doing the things you have to, for me like splitting wood. And it is doing the things that arise in you and really are doing you. First, for me it was talking to kids all around Minnesota about not smoking. Now it is putting in an organic orchard for future food for people. This isn't heroics it is living.