I’ve always felt at ease in the company of trees, birds, rivers, animals, even just taking in the sky scape. Often I prefer it over social settings. I can and do enjoy people, having had far more loving relationships than challenging ones, I’m very grateful for my family and friends and community. But immersed in the outdoors, so long as I don’t identify with my endless thinking, I find my self deeply connected. This happens in human company, among open and trusting people — but it’s more rare, for whatever reasons.
This spring and summer I took a deep dive, trying to gain a sense of the current ecological picture we’re within. What we face in the coming decades. What our way of life has set in motion is pretty bleak: it’s not just the changing climate, but destroying bio-diversity, acidifying oceans, wastng fresh water supplies, corrupting the atmosphere, squandering precious topsoil, carelessly altering our foods, filling our bodies with plastics, industrial chemicals, and unpredictable pharmaceuticals, amid several other crises. All crucial to the dynamic of life as we’ve known it. By every measurable account the earth’s systems are past tipping points and now moving headlong toward changes that will have cascading affect on this world.
The climate issue is finally making headlines, (besides the all encompassing impact, the cynic in me senses some of this is because profits are becoming visible via green-washing) but it’s far from the only troubling issue. Industrial societies are collectively in what’s known as overshoot — when a civilization or culture over-uses resources or corrupts vital needs faster than they can replenish. The crazy thing is we are so sophisticated in our economics and business modeling, yet we can’t seem to notice the basic fallacy that resources are not unlimited and the earth’s systems are not static linear “things” but more accurately ought to be envisioned as verbs, organic aspects of a living whole.
The earth will come to a balance, eventually, but our luxurious and wasteful way of living, this relative golden-age we now enjoy, won’t continue. It can’t, because it’s based on the myth of ever-available resources and permanently stable parameters. Humans are crafty and adaptable, but the changes in this interwoven dynamic have begun to take on a momentum, affecting one another in ways that we barely comprehend and can’t keep up with. By any sober assessment, our way of life is not just on borrowed time, we’ve broken the bank for future generations.
Incredibly, it feels as if our society is still content to careen onward, either oblivious or distracted by all sorts of other interests; mostly in denial about how dire things are. Maybe because to sincerely reckon with the concept that we’ve cultivated a future that isn’t just more difficult, but severely challenging for our kids and grandkids is so mind-numbing, we can’t begin to own it. It flies in the face of naive concepts like perpetual “economic growth” and the corollary ideas that humans are distinct and separate from “nature,” and even from each other. These beliefs that guide the industrialized world, have so saturated us from birth we’ve never questioned their validity, let alone their consequences.
But payback on our debt is arriving more conspicuously each year. It won’t be “turned around” simply by finding new energy sources if we retain the same relationship to non-human life that’s built this sinking Titanic. It’s the idea of our separateness that is most toxic, even more than how we misuse the planet with our tools.
It’s understandably hard to come to grips with our folly — essentially to accept that our modern world is built on a ruinous foundation. To do so is to acknowledge and envision a necessary end to our way of life. This is as scary as confronting our own no-less-deniable death. We all know how well our modern culture handles that…
We may get a buffer here in the US, being so high on the hog compared to many nations, but as these inevitable transitions arrive, it’s bound to get messy. Due to our social emphasis on individualism, there seems a good chance the desperate scramble ahead won’t see us leaning toward empathetic compassion. We’ve been trained and guided to be aggressively divided, even before things have become really scarce.
We all want to belong to a tribe. But the sadly increasing tendency to declare oneself part of this herd in order to attack that herd, to me perverts the genuine concept of community. It reveals our deep, underlying insecurity, and it troubles and sickens me. The global challenges are just beginning, but we’re already primed to be at odds with others. Those in positions to pull strings have long been stealthily working to feed their greed as they steadily tighten their illusory grip on control. AI coupled with social media makes us ripe for manipulation. Will we blindly follow the puppet master’s tunes, preferring to label and blame “others”, refuse to question what we are told, rather than dare look inward and modify our own lives?
Why is it so hard for us to see ourselves in each other? Why don’t we recognize how interwoven our lives are, with one another and other life forms? While we’re here, can’t we embrace our roles and enjoy our unique notes harmonizing in this grand symphony of life?
Sigh. We all find our own ways to cope with what this life presents, whether we do it consciously or not. I don’t know precisely how to respond to this dismal future. It may well be some of what I’m doing is a form of denial. I try to be “environmentally responsible” but still work within the “capitalist system” and use far more energy and resources than many on the planet. I’m fully aware sharing this requires all sorts of use of natural resources. What’s the best use of my energy?
I keep writing and making paintings because for forty years it’s helped me sort life out. It may not offer answers, but it helps me see the questions better.. Sometimes putting feelings into words clarifies; other times the feelings transcend using words. Maybe the way can only be revealed through living it.
Experiencing art in all forms, like these visual diaries from a few years ago, may be a distraction. But it offers some centering for me. I still enjoy the soft richness of Earthday. I like the variety within the colorful whole that (for me) it embodies, and the light softly emanating from within. I also enjoy the way the interlocking components seem to shift in an organic, independent way. They seem invisibly held in their particular places—to change one small part would force a recalibration of the overall harmony, highlighting the preciousness inherent in the dynamic, hence the title.
“Release”, feels open, free. Almost a call to let go and end the facade that we are, or have ever been, in control. (Ego aside, a deeper aspect of “me” doesn’t feel we ever really are, globally or personally.) This image seems to embody an intuitive knowing, an acceptance, a humbling into the flow. It’s like a tumbling flight or float into a non-sky. It offers a hint of a deep expanse that isn’t really a space. Like wandering a pathless path. There are passages of silver paint (not visible via a screen image) which shift tone in different light from airy to concrete. I like how these make it full, yet empty. For me the image suggests letting the mystery permeate my awareness so fully that there’s no need for a “point of view.” It encourages simply being. Even as there’s no one to be concerned about, because there’s no self, no separation, no discreet “things,” only a fleetingly felt yet profound awareness.
It’s human nature to want to care and prepare, but how can one possibly make ready for something no one has ever experienced? Despite the longing to know what’s on the horizon, really, every day of our lives is uncertain, yet we lose track of this until a catalyst awakens us. The world is different, as are we, than a decade before, or five years ago, or two weeks ago. Indeed, the earth, the ocean, our bodies can not be the same as yesterday. Yet something about us holds steady, even beyond passing thoughts and shifting emotions. I find solace in that steady awareness.
In the meantime, we get along ever-adapting to the moments, and we get through. Maybe the way forward is seeing our experiences anew; to try to recognize the preciousness of what is, within each day. To keep growing and learning and be grateful and kind, to hone a better capacity for understanding, and especially, love.
Maybe the messages within these paintings aren’t mutually exclusive, but are encouraging me toward balance: being aware of the richness and accepting of the mysteries; savoring the terrible beauty of all experience, while not resisting any.