One sultry September about four decades ago, after having been prepared for the quest by true and knowledgeable friends, I sat on a New Hampshire mountaintop for four days and four nights.
Setting out on this first, formal quest, I held wild hopes for metaphysical marvels: clouds parting, maybe, angel voices, maybe, messengers arriving from celestial realms to deliver golden scrolls of wisdom, maybe. Make it so! Something spectacular!
But nothing mysterious or majestic happened at all. As far as I could tell, over those four sunsets and sunrises there was not as much as a quirk in the quantum field. Not that first year.
But that first time something key did unfold. After the fourth night of sleeping under the stars, during the fourth day as the Sun beat down upon me and as I awaited the arrival of my compatriots to escort me down from the mountain, I began fiddling with a twig. I was using my fingernail to peel the bark off. Idly passing time. Waiting. Peeling. But then the twig came apart. It just cracked in my hand with a soft, but resonant snap.
When the twig snapped, something inside me snapped, too.
I realized that I’d just changed the world. There was no way to put the twig back together. You could repair a twig with superglue, I suppose, or even pine pitch to stay in the natural realm. But it would be different. Never the same. My distracted action had changed the world — to an infinitesimally small degree — but changed it nonetheless.
In this manner, with the snapping of a twig, I came to a basic understanding of reality, an understanding that many others have long grasped, and that many more could benefit from grasping. Everything is connected, related. Physics recognizes this with math. Mystics recognize it with direct perception. Every action changes the world to one degree or another, even the clumsy snapping of a twig.
But what came to me with the crack of that snapping twig was not an abstract idea or a philosophical concept, but a vivid living experience of reality, and how all my actions influence creation, one way or another. All things are related. Each action in the web of life influences everything. This I’ve remembered.
Kick in The Gut
I’m telling this story now because the UN has just released another kick-in-gut report about the wholesale extinction taking place with our life-support system here on Mother Earth. The news is ugly. It’s overwhelming if you take time to read the report, to weigh the facts it sets out, and to consider what it means for you, me, and all the rest of us.
Here’s the kick-in-the-gut part of the study. Right now our life-support system, nature, is in worst shape ever throughout all of human history. That’s official.
The summary report bluntly stating this comes from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). That group includes more than 450 global researchers, who compiled 15,000 scientific and government reports. Before their summary was released, 109 of the world’s nations approved the findings as accurate and consequential.
The chair of IPBES, Sir Robert Watson, said: “The overwhelming evidence … from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Our Main Chance
Neither a stoic mountain top quest, nor a keg of craft beer will blot out the level of futility and hopelessness that a report like this may generate. Beyond all known escapes, reality persists. Reality demands attention and action.
I write about the hard reality of our broken world because it demands not depression, not escape, but rather purposeful attention. Writing about it reminds me to take thoughtful actions and non-actions in my life. And my deep hope is that the stories will help remind others, too.
At this critical juncture of time and circumstance for nature, climate, politics, and culture, every twig we snap, every vote we cast, every product we consume, every positive, pro-active action we take makes a difference. As I understand it, and as I try best to respond, we are now all called to stand up, to fulfill our obligations to life, to be exemplars, to be leaders, to face and to transform the challenges of our era. This is our main chance.
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