Forget what you knew yesterday. This landscape is completely different. It is timely and necessary to completely discombobulate existing ideas of meaning and perception. It is time to see the world very differently. It is time to feel the pulsating organs of the Earth, the porosity of cell membranes, the entangled tentacles and communication of mycelium networks and plant roots. It is time to feel the rapacious and relentless appetite of all kinds of bacteria as they continuously shape the construction and deconstruction of the planet. It is time to hear the beating heart of this breathing Earth.
When we engage with the world through all of our senses, reality can become something very very different to what we may think it is. Every human community has a culture, and culture does its best to tell us a story that can help us to engage with the world. Some cultures do better than others. This Western culture of modernity and progress has done its best to tell an engaging story, and it has been useful in some ways. For example, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee’s recent film ‘Earthrise’ documents how we have been granted a vision of a shared home in a way never before accessible to our species. However, in many other ways this has been a story primarily of separation, extraction and imbalance. This story is ultimately failing to provide sufficient meaning; to reach down into the very core of our being and tell us how to relate to one another, how to relate to this living breathing planet, indeed, how even to relate to our-selves. We need a new story.
Yet paradoxically, like the fish that one can assume is unable to see the water in which it swims, the lens through which we experience the world can make it difficult to conceive of a new story outside of its own logic, outside of Logos. Our conceptions are tainted, our maps are tea-stained with the histories, excesses and violence of colonialism and empire. For this reason, we need to rely on senses and ways of being that misbehave and resist conformity to the neoliberal agenda and project of modernity and empire. Thus, I think it is in the fleshy corporeality of our bodies and emotions – the reciprocity and receptivity of our beingness as it inter-acts with the ebb and flow of space and time – where we must look to make-sense. This is a wholly different way of finding a story, whereby it is first registered, felt, and then led by our relationship to existence itself.
Thus our new story is not one that ‘we’ conceive, it is a story that is given. It is a story that registers on the level of feeling as we invite in a deeper wisdom to guide us in these times. What if something greater, vaster, inconceivable, is trying to tell us something? And what if we could only hear this wisdom by first learning how to listen, by reinvigorating and emboldening ways of sense-making that have been subordinated? This is the surrender that opens to an infinite depth of mystery, wisdom and wonder. This is the opening that precedes and exceeds this lifetime.
And so our work becomes to sit in the place of disintegration, bearing witness to a world in reconfiguration, with no guarantees that the human has a place in the new order of things? Can you reside there? Can you sit in a place where death is as true and beautiful as life? For make no mistake, one way or another this is a time of death. Perhaps it always has been. But something must be honoured now, and it seems to me that a big part of our task as a culture, perhaps even as a species, is to consciously support the death and dying of so many things. The unconscious form of this process will be much more painful. Indeed, it will be painful regardless.
The question then arises, dear reader. Can you be with the pain? Can you not run away from your own, from that of the loved ones around you, from the pain of our culture, from the pain of our crying sacred Earth? Can you recognise these times for what they are without trying to hide in a cave of denial, to build a castle of anger and defensiveness? To even forego the impulse to build a rocketship of hope and busy-ness?
N.B. This article was inspired by a conversation between Bayo Akomolafe and Pat McCabe at St Ethelburga's, available here.