Can it be we’re all grappling with various stages of denial, even those of us who – like me – have been working on it for a while? I think we do know what’s happening, but our knowledge doesn’t easily percolate down to where we actually live. I’ll share very recent thoughts, some coming into focus this morning on a springtime walk with my brother.

Truly knowing that profound change is on the way due to climate would mean the knowledge would settle down through all the layers of our self: the way we think of our self as we walk down the road, our sense of purpose around what we’re doing, what it is that we do, the way we present ourselves to our friends.

The network of our relationships is a kind of knowing too. It forms a body of knowledge about the world that’s updated moment to moment as we move about in it. Feedback from the world acts as an ongoing verification of what to expect, a proof that something is a certain way. And that means “business as usual.”

But sureness about coming climate change, or about social collapse isn’t something we know in an embodied way like this. Everything in our world counterindicates it. Everything shouts that that tomorrow will be just like today.

And so we don’t trust our deep knowing. We want to return to the public truth because it’s so much more comfortable there for us. It’s uncomfortable to be, seemingly, out there all alone with the weight of it. As David Whyte says:

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
   at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
   the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now

We don’t want to go down into facing or feeling it all. Who do we know who’s been there? We literally can’t imagine sensorially what that means: the body is way behind the intellectual appreciation. It takes time. And moreover, to do deeper work on denial, it’s almost essential to have a community to do it in. If we can find a little toe hold where it’s not business as usual, we can acclimatize and practice a new knowing, dress rehearse it, see if it’s real for us.

Our denial is strong and devious, like the devil. But the blood and the bones are deeper and they already know what denial doesn’t. A part of us intuits the truth, even though we deny it.

There’s a close analogy to perennial philosophy here and the whole search for wisdom. We deny climate change in much the same way that we deny what the greater part of us knows.  We can’t believe it, or rather we refuse to believe it. The truth whispers to us but we go through the game of pretending we don’t know, indulging in a mad search for something easier to live with. Like the squirrel outside my window just now who’s considering crossing the road, we’re engrossed in a particular point of view on the world. The problem of denial is the problem of manning a lonely outpost on the world, determined to make our plan work, even though something simpler might work better. Even though what we want is already present, already here. The knowledge we want is deeper down, shared by all of us, part of the commons. It’s acceptance and Presence.

Wendell Berry says that we shouldn’t measure another’s intelligence by the mastery of some specialized information but by “the good order or harmoniousness of his or her surroundings.” In other words, it’s not what we know or believe about climate change but how that knowledge is living well inside of us, how we’re learning to embody and live it. Down there, everything is OK. Going deeper is a process for all of us and it takes time. As we do we’re likely going to find some of the wisdom we were always seeking. That’s just part of the territory down there. This is a good time to find meaning, even Presence, the realization that this moment contains what we is the one we always wanted.

And a free drop-in group to explore all this tomorrow, Sunday May 19th, at 1pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific, 6pm UK, etc. Send an email to andrewcartermacdonald at gmail dot com and I’ll send you the link.

3 Responses

  1. Andrew,
    B here. Why is it that ” the body is way behind intellectual appreciation?” Are you saying that we have lost touch with how our body perceives Nature? Where does the deeper work take place? Could you expand on what “the greater part of us knows”?
    After we do the personal presencing and deeper work then comes connecting with others in a way that is not preaching. If we are all in this together then the community is the world. This means connecting with those that do not have the same worldviews as us. Yes, one step at a time is the message because that is what presencing is; be present in your process moment to moment. What seems vital to me is that we face our fear of failure as well. This does not mean we will fail, it means we are aware of the possibility and use it to attract inner resources found within the web of life. What happens when you touch something hot? We pull away, we attract one of our survival senses.
    Maybe we should embrace denial to attract the opposite? Is it possible to think ourselves dead? Our bodies are pretty stubborn about living. That is Nature talking through us. Have we really taken the time to reconnect with Nature? What is it in us that tells us to drink when we thirst and eat when we hunger? Nature. The myth is that human nature is separate from Nature. We have our stories but what have we learned from them? Are they excuses or lessons that need harvesting for wisdom?
    I ramble.
    Be well

  2. Your essay reminded me of thoughts I have regarding our relationship with nature. Perhaps you were alluding to the same phenomenum: on an intellectual level we know that our planet orbits the sun. Yet, on a day-to-day (business as usual) level we don’t think as if we know that fact. We speak of the sun “rising” or “going down” rather than “we are turning towards (or away from) the sun.
    People I have talked to about this dismiss it as nonsense. What say you? Is this an example of the body taking longer than the intellect to grasp a change in reality?
    Btw, the Beatles (probably John Lennon) wrote a song called “Fool on the Hill”: “…saw the sun going down and the eyes in his head saw the world spinning round”. That’s what I’m talking about.

  3. B, love your questions, They’re mine too. The answers take a lifetime!

    Keith, there’s always more depth to understand, but the society and the social mind tend to think they already know all that’s worth knowing.

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