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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Gratitude for Beauty Lost


By Jonathan Stein, MA, RDT, CTP,
Contributing Editor, Collapsing into Consciousness

INTRODUCTION

This essay is intended to be but a nudge in the direction of greater awareness, and not an in-depth exposition of the challenges that we face as a species. The crux of this short writing will, hopefully, direct my readers toward an awareness of one potential aspect of the solution to personal and global transformation. This facet pertains to gratitude and awareness of beauty.

In the years to come, the people of the world will continue to wake up to the massive and far-reaching humanitarian and environmental atrocities being perpetrated by an elitist minority of wealthy individuals for their own gain. As this awakening occurs and people begin to understand the deception and violation that has been taking place, it will be completely natural for them to move through a process of intense emotional upset, spiritual emergency, and crisis of meaning. While much could be (and has been) written about the subsequent stages of transitioning from denial to acceptance and responsibility, the following pages focus mostly on awareness and sensitivity cultivation, a prerequisite stage that if consciously embraced, can begin to lift humanity from its collective state of denial and apathy.

At the time of this writing, the human race is still largely asleep to the rapid and precipitous destruction that is occurring planet-wide, and therefore precious little action is being taken to remedy the situation. It’s hard to rouse an individual from the deep slumber of denial from which humanity appears to be suffering. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that has undoubtedly played a necessary role in the perpetuation of the human species over the course of millions of years and yet, at critical junctures like the monumentally historical one we find ourselves at today, it becomes painfully evident that denial has a life of its own, and emergence from its grip is possibly as much up to providence as it is to skillful intervention.

THE BEAUTY THAT YOU ARE

While “skillful intervention” is something I like to imagine I’m good at (I’m a psychotherapist), I also recognize that offering guidance to someone who doesn’t realize they are suffering (or avoiding pain as the case may be) can have the opposite of the desired effect. That said, I imagine that if you are reading this essay, you are quite possibly already among the converted, or at the very least, the open minded and curious. Therefore, I offer the remaining pages as an attempt to entice you into living more passionately and courageously, and hopefully persuade you into more deeply and consciously embodying your divine inheritance as an inseparable, interconnected, interdependent manifestation of the Natural Beauty that pervades the landscapes of our utterly beautiful and beloved planet, now in peril.

THE NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL: WHAT WE NOW KNOW

Aside from the problems of rampant corporate and government corruption and global economic instability, the reality of climate change is now more readily seeping into the consciousness of the masses. A distinguished cadre of (non-corporate or government funded) scientists with a deep understanding of our collective situation that global warming and climate change are real, have concluded that we have likely already passed a tipping point in terms of our ability to navigate a smooth transition to a post fossil fuel age. What this in part suggests is that not only are we looking toward an unavoidable and difficult transition to a more sustainable way of existing on the planet, but our species, as well as countless others, also now faces the very real likelihood of an uninhabitable planet by the end of the century or sooner.

I strongly believe that the problems humanity is facing on the planet today are not going to go away by wishing them to disappear, by hoping some other “they” or technological advance is going to solve the problems, or that new age positive thinking without concrete action is the answer.

THE PRESSING QUESTIONS WE NEED TO BE ASKING OURSELVES

At this time of unprecedented change on the planet, there are many important and pressing questions that we as a culture and as a species need to be asking ourselves. Civilization as a whole has the pedal to the metal, hurtling head-long toward a not too distant future that promises significant and potentially unnerving disruptions and changes to the ways that we live our lives. My experience has lead me to believe that a couple of the most important questions that we each need to be asking ourselves are these: “How can I be courageous in my choice to remain awake in the face of the troubles that lie ahead?”, and “How can I be an effective and inspiring Awakener in a world populated mostly by people who are too frightened or unwilling to think about, let alone make the changes necessary to prepare themselves for a smoother transition to a more regenerative way of living on the planet?”

WHAT LIES AHEAD

While I know there is a silver lining to every unfortunate experience, and while I believe that there is a cosmic level at which all of the disharmony and dis-ease in the world is “perfect” in its own mysterious way, there is another level at which the future I see unfolding is far too troublesome for me to remain complacent. It is likely that I would remain unmotivated to make any sort of helpful change if I didn’t actually believe I was being affected directly. Unfortunately, denial of our current predicament is epidemic, and hence part of the reason that so few people are responding with conviction to what lies ahead. Without feeling the costs of the damage being done, it’s impossible to respond.

Here are several of the most prominent ways that I am personally already being affected (and therefore motivated):

One of the hardest pieces of information that I have had to come to terms with is the fact that I will be alive to witness and experience some very unpleasant changes on the planet in the coming decades. Climate change, peak oil, and global economic instability are no longer off-in-the-future-doesn’t-involve-me sorts of scenarios. The twenty or thirty year window of lead time needed to transition with some semblance of grace and composure to a sustainable way of living on the planet has been squandered. We now sit on a precipice, having done precious little to address humanity’s greatest challenge, or invitation, depending on how you choose to view it (I choose invitation). The forthcoming changes will affect me and in fact, if I have the courage and wisdom to look, I’ll see that they already are.

Another motivating awareness that I have is that the many changes we have to look forward to will affect the lives of people that I care about and love, which incidentally includes just about everybody on the planet, but specifically, the people I personally know and relate to. I bring to mind my teenaged and toddler nephews and the many beautiful children that I know in the communities that I’m a part of. It breaks my heart to think of the mess that our recent generations are leaving them to (try to) clean up in the wake of our gross and massive display of irresponsibility and unconsciousness.

MOTIVATION BY HEARTBREAK

Thirdly, I’m deeply saddened, outraged, and motivated by the wanton destruction and loss of so much beauty on the planet. In the past decade, I’ve contemplated how it is that I can know so much about the dis-eased state of our planet but have such a hard time feeling the losses enough to act on its behalf. It’s been hard for me to answer to this question and it has been embarrassingly (but understandably) easy for me to stay numb to the numerous disturbing planetary realities for far too long. Whether a blessing or curse, my life has been marked by an incessant urge (guidance?) to get to the root of my resistances, and to unearth the wisdom to understand and feel deeply, so that today, the energy, consciousness and courage to act is now much more readily available to me.

WHAT IS AT STAKE, AND WHAT WE STAND TO LOSE

The feeling into the painful realities of our times is, in part, what brought about the transformation in consciousness for me and I would contend that it is one of the most important steps for all human beings to take in order to catalyze the kind of global awakening and transformation that will ease the transition. But there is more to it than just feeling the pain. For me, the awakening occurred in large part because of the appreciation I feel for the extraordinary natural beauty, in its myriad forms, apparent everywhere around me. In the wake of my growing understanding of what is at stake and what we stand to lose, I began to feel an organic emergence of gratitude for the abundance of beauty that my life was already brimming with. Were it not for my ability to feel grateful for the beautiful bounty in my life, from the colorful display of food on my plate, to the endlessly awe inspiring magnificence of the sunset, and the miraculous exquisiteness of the many forms of wildlife that have taken millions of years to evolve, it would have been inconceivable for me to assume a sense of responsibility and guardianship that expands much beyond myself.

I now know what compels me to act on behalf of the planet and its inhabitants. It’s partially the recognition of my fundamental interconnectedness with all that is and the ensuing knowledge that my life support system has been so dangerously compromised. But what really motivates me and bursts my heart open is the awesome beauty and vulnerability found in nature. When I think of the magnitude of the crisis at hand and the role that humans have played in their adolescent and selfish desire to bring Nature into submission, my heart breaks with the knowledge that this divinely beautiful, innocent, and endlessly generous miracle that Nature is, millions upon millions of years in the making, is being stripped of her clothing, raped repeatedly, and sold to the highest bidder. I simply feel too out of integrity to do nothing about this atrocity.

IT’S ALL IN YOUR IMAGINATION

At least as far as the western world is concerned, it now seems reasonable to expect that the time of material extravagance, made available as a result of access to cheap and abundant fossil fuels, is winding down. It’s likely, if not already apparent to many, that we are on the road to a progressive series of cultural lifestyle changes that will require individuals and communities to be resilient and adaptable. We must be prepared to relinquish our attachments to many of the luxuries that our civilization, built on an ideology of infinite growth, has temporarily afforded us.

The cultivation of resilience and adaptability are skills brought forth as much through practice and preparation as they are through engagement of the creative imagination. In fact, I will argue that most if not all human acts, including practice and preparation, require the use of this powerful yet often understated imaginative faculty as a prerequisite to their actual manifestation. While the power of humanity’s collective imagination has undoubtedly been responsible for an inordinate amount of violence and destruction across the globe and throughout the ages, so too has it been the originator of countless good deeds and valuable technological advances. Indeed, it is the creative capacity of the human Spirit, translated through the artists and visionaries, that has time and time again throughout history, revealed what beauty we humans are truly capable of producing.

IN GRATITUDE FOR BEAUTY LOST

Draw in a deep, slow breath…

Now, with the intention of invoking your capacity for visualization and for bringing the reality of our changing times to a more conscious and kinesthetic level, I offer you a few more images, as potential seeds of change. My hope is that in some small or grand way, the rich soil of your imagination will act as nourishing ground for the future blossoming of a world that we all recognize as one worth inheriting.

My desire is that you will take a few quiet moments and several slow breaths into the soft, generous and life loving body of your heart, to reflect on the following:

When you imagine the possibility of your life and those of your loved ones becoming significantly more difficult in the coming decades due to economic upheaval, unemployment, drought, food shortage, or disease and when you imagine the beaches and the mountains being decimated or the wildlife you so cherish becoming extinct, can you also get in touch with your appreciation for what you have now?

Let yourself sink deeply into the feeling of gratitude for the goodness and beauty that is in your life now, remembering the old adage that what is here today may be gone tomorrow. Bring to mind the people and animals you love and the time-stopping, awe-inspiring natural wonders you have witnessed. And whether or not the troubling changes mentioned in the above paragraphs actually come to pass, dwell for a while in the sense of gratitude for what you have now. Return to it often and notice how it changes your life for the better.

TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC

We are living at a time when a myriad of symptoms, stemming from tragic neglect and obscene squandering of our planet’s gifts, are becoming frighteningly apparent. More and more, we hear about people and whole communities that are being directly affected by climate change, natural disasters, energy shortage, and economic hardship. Unfortunately, little forethought has been dedicated to the task of shifting the global consciousness toward an ethos of sustainability and it’s now time for us all to face the music. But how will we do this?

I wouldn’t be entirely honest if I didn’t come right out and tell you that I don’t have an answer to that question. We may, in fact, be a bit too late to shift things in a way that we would ideally prefer. In my paradigm, facing the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the impacts of the choices we, as a culture, have made… or that a few powerful individuals pulling strings behind an elusive OZ-like curtain have made (depending on how you have come to understand our predicament). Facing the music entails finally having to look the dragon in the mouth, if only to comprehend what has happened, come to terms with the implications of the disaster, and strive to create new meaning in a world where the old rules no longer apply and new one’s haven’t been written.

We will need to find meaning in the mess we’ve created and hopefully we’ll ferret some worthy bezels of wisdom to pass on to our certain-to-be-bewildered grandchildren.

JUST A BRIEF WORD ON SADNESS: A BITTER SWEET MEDICINE

Given all that we now know, it would serve us to touch into our sorrow regarding the current situation. By allowing ourselves to grieve for all that has been lost and all that continues to be destroyed, we are imbibing a potent and bittersweet medicine, capable of putting human beings back into alignment with the soul of Nature and the beauty therein.

The reasons for sadness’ bitterness are far more obvious than the reasons for its sweetness. The feeling of sadness must necessarily be preceded by a painful awareness of the occurrence of the actions that give rise to the sadness. It’s never fun to learn about things that cause us to feel pain. On the other hand, sadness is also sweet in that it represents a deeply soulful admission that something has gone terribly wrong and that something very important was lost: something beautiful, meaningful, and life sustaining. Moreover, sadness serves to bring us back into contact with a natural flow of gratitude that can get pushed to the recesses of our awareness when life gets too painful or too busy. Feeling sadness is a harmonizing act of vulnerable acknowledgement that dissolves any sense of separation between self and other and therefore further awakens an awareness of self as other.

GRATITUDE AS FUEL FOR CHANGE

There’s evidence to suggest that having a daily gratitude practice supports physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and resilience. But we need not let the benefits derived from a conscious practice of gratitude remain limited to our own personal sense of well-being. We must come to understand that the appreciation we experience for the beauty in our lives can no longer be relegated to the realm of just a pleasurable, sacred, personal experience for us to enjoy as if we were separate from the rest of creation. In those moments, when we are awed by the beauty we encounter, we experience magnificence, because the illusion of division between the human and non-human world dissolves and we stand, blessed, in remembrance of our true Nature, interconnected and one with all.

I believe that if we can remain awake in such moments of recognition, we have the opportunity to accept our responsibility as evolving, interconnected and interdependent beings, who are being beckoned into service to some “Thing” much greater than ourselves. Our gratitude can then be alchemized into a source of inspired motivation to benefit a world in desperate need. If we allow it to be so, our newly rediscovered sense of interconnection will continue to inform our capacity for kindness and compassion toward all beings, human and non-human alike. Who knows, we may even begin to behave as if our lives depend on being awake to this sense of interconnection because it will then be very obvious: they do.

Jonathan Stein, MA, RDT, CTP is a Life Coach, Psychotherapist, Creative Arts Therapist and writer. He maintains a private practice in Boston, MA and Brattleboro, VT. He can be reached by email at jonathan@jonathanstein.org, or through his professional web site at www.jonathanstein.org.

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The Big Issue

This is a really great article. Thank you.

How we deal with the natural environment (and our reaction to it's ill health), to me, is THE big issue facing us. Debt limit debates and Cyprian bank runs are distractions and perhaps symptoms of bigger problems.

I'm also trying to reconcile the fact that I'll be alive in what appear to be much worse times ahead. I do try to appreciate what I've experienced so far, but melancholy often sets in if I think too deeply about what we seem to be losing.

It is a tough issue because our success and failure depends on a group decision. If I make dramatic changes to my lifestyle but no one else does, I still lose in the long run. Even if a whole country does what it can, it will require that other countries also participate. We have to trust that we'll work together, which is difficult is a suspicious world.

But, I try to look for the little successes I see and cheer them on. I try to appreciate what is here, now, and not live in fear.

Anyhow, thanks for writing this. Lots to think about here.

 
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Living In The Material World

"There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday...."
- The Police, "King of Pain," 1983

I read this essay with a sad sense of recognition. The issues Jonathan Stein raises are the very ones that have been troubling me for the last decade but especially so in the last couple years. I'm especially troubled by the incredible denial that I see so many people mired in. Although I'm the kind of nut who talks about these things anyway, it's more out of compulsion than intention -- in actual fact, I've been trying very hard NOT to say anything to upset people, because they've told me in their responses and in their words that they really, really don't want to hear anything negative. Trouble is, if we don't confront the many negatives that make up our reality, we're going to be crushed by it.

My metaphor for what people are doing right now is an old one -- the oncoming locomotive. What I see is a lot of people standing on the tracks, watching the train barreling toward them and hoping against hope that it doesn't hit them. But not one of them does anything to get out of the way. Unfortunately, hope is not enough. If you just stand there hoping, that train is going to hit you. You're not going to get a magical deus ex machina, hand of God coming down to save you because you were so good and hopeful. You have to actually do something...

But if you can't even talk about the problems, because it's impolite to say things to people that they don't want to hear, then I think we're pretty much sunk.

I do know people who are awake and aware, trying hard to appreciate what we have left. But even the awakened, when confronted with the new bad thing, often say to me -- I don't want to think about these things because there's nothing I can do. I'm not sure that we're really that powerless but it's the perception. People see the world as the property of the government, corporations, and the rich -- little people like us can do nothing, or so the thinking goes.

I would argue that if there's nothing else you can do, you can at least acknowledge the situation and stop allowing everyone to remain in denial by your own silence. There comes a time when it seems almost immoral to stay silent, even if it is what others would have you do.

I'm reminded of the famous "Mad as hell" speech in Network by the supposed lunatic Howard Beale. It was written for another time but it holds water today. "We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'" Ain't it the truth....

Last quote from another unhappy person, this time William Butler Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”, 1920

Could it be that the best lack all conviction because they don't know what to do, because they think it's too late and that the silver lining that supposedly lies behind the darkest cloud is no longer there?

The question for me, trying to end on a more upbeat note, is: what shall I do with myself while we're waiting for the end of the world? I would like to do something constructive and meaningful. I would like to find room in my world view for happiness, joy even. This is my current mission -- to find that path. Any suggestions would be appreciated although I know that in the long run, it's up to me, as it is to each of us, to find our own way.

Thanks for the essay, Jonathan. I appreciate someone recognizing the cognitive dissonance of our times and at least trying to address it.

 

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