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The Way Forward

I write this to you from the now time, a time of angst and strife and struggle and chaos in which none of us knows what things shall come to pass. From this time, two decades into the 21st century and six months into the Great Pandemic, it is clear that we have reached a fulcrum, a new place in history that requires a new way of being. It’s a place of great awakening as we are thrust rapidly out of our magical thinking and into a new future. Sadly, it is an awakening born out of fear and necessary action in response to unprecedented changes in our environment, driven by a virus. But it is an awakening.

In the before time, like now, humanity and all of its machines and engines roared in their forward press towards development, growth, and expansion. In the before time, the wheels turned and the levers pulled and the world strained at the weight of its own endless desire to build and consume and none of us thought it could ever be stopped. And then the pandemic came, arriving as a whisper, blanketing the world with silence and slowing the turn of the wheel until even time stood still, days passing like water in a lazy stream. And for a while we sat as stones in that water, allowing the wonder of it all to wash over us in the time we will recall to future generations as ‘the quieting’.

In the quieting, the world changed. Streets emptied of cars. Skies emptied of planes. The oceans emptied of noise. Smog cleared. City lights dimmed. And people changed. Without restaurants, people cooked. Without masks, people sewed. With nowhere to go, people walked. They checked on neighbors. Gardens appeared in front yards. Children rode bikes. On the streets, homeless people were allowed to retain their dignity, to claim a space in the world, to not be criminalized for their poverty or drug addiction or hard knock lives. Corporations and governments changed too, redirecting funds towards communities, providing healthcare services, barring evictions, reducing interest rates, and extending debt relief.

From the quieting it was easy to see just how closely tied our fates are to the fate of our surroundings, how we reflect and amplify the human condition onto the world around us and how the state of nature, when impaired, impairs our own health. It was easy to see how we are all butterflies of a sort, capable of causing hurricanes with a flutter of our wings. And it became easy to see that the old ways of being, the old systems and ways of thinking will not serve us from this place in history. Why? Because in the past, our attempts at environmental remediations, rehabilitation, and even conservation reflected our continued attachment to our own dominion, our ongoing belief in our separate and superior standing in the natural world and even amongst ourselves.

But in the quieting, we learned that we are vulnerable.

What follows the now time surely, then, must be different. To build a future from this time, one that is worthy of hope, we will need a new environmental ethos for the post-millennial era. One that acknowledges this new paradigm of connectedness and cosmic egalitarianism mandated by circumstance, backed by history and science, and rooted in radical love and uncommon generosity. What will this post-millennial environmentalism look like in practice? It will look like a deeply personal and visceral shift in how we approach and integrate lifestyle, health matters, mindfulness, economics, and social justice into our lives. It will look a lot like the steps we need to take to pull ourselves from the grasp of the pandemic. It will look a lot like the quieting.

First though, we have to emerge from the digital space into the physical space. We have to go outside. Immersion in the natural world is good for us and through increased accessibility, conservation of public lands, destigmatization, demasculanization, and declolonization of the outdoors and the embracing of urban and home-space wildernesses it can (and must) become a sanctuary. Perhaps more importantly, we have to send the kids outside. We have to send them outside and that time outside should be considered an integral part of their education, an education focused on the acquisition of a living skill set rather than a collection of static facts. These kids will need to be resilient and adaptable and able to innovate in ways we can’t yet dream of so we need to teach them curiosity and problem solving in addition to scientific and emotional literacy.

As adults, we need to invest in rejuvenation in all its forms- habitat restoration, food network security, preventative medicine and good mental health, decreased pollution and carbon footprints, organic, regenerative practices, living wages, and egalitarian resource distribution. As inheritors of complex histories and inherently imperfect beings, we need to seek out reconciliation and the making of amends, including recognition of harm, the extension of rights to all things, the sacrifice of privilege for equality, reparations, and a peace-centered culture. Only then can we begin to manifest. Manifestation, a return to a culture of doing and a place-centered lifestyle. Sustainable wellness hinges on our ability to step away from mass production and invest in small-scale, local industries and economies, and craftsmanship and the arts. Essential to this is a reconnection of our workscapes with landscapes, a shift in our built environments in terms of engineering, design and construction, and the restoration of the concept of dignity in all work.

Then? Then we return to the stream of time, to sit as stones and abide and endure and press into our future seeking out that essential state of wonder that allowed us to see the truth in the first place. Simple wonder, the wide-eyed fullness that arrives with new-found possibilities, a potent tonic for the spirit- the gift of the quieting.

Because what we learned from that time is what is possible from humanity, the lengths to which we can go, the sacrifices we can make for our own sakes and the sakes of others. What we learned from the quieting is that the engines- of commerce, busyness, consumption, oppression, waste, pollution, expansion, they can be turned off. In that time, as a human collective, we almost succeeded. Then, we just we let it slip away. And for what? A haircut, Sunday brunch, a weekend at the beach, a beer with friends, profit, power, pride. No reason good enough.

We know what we are capable of doing. We have felt the cool water run across our backs. And we can return there anytime.

Wild river in forest


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