Authored by Jared Michaels for Psyched in San Francisco Magazine. Jared is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Berkeley and a Zen teacher in the San Francisco Zen Center lineage.
Because of climate change and its various causes, humanity is at risk of going extinct. That's a polite way of saying that we're close to killing ourselves. Some scientists think it's already too late, but many believe we still have a small window of opportunity.
That leaves us with a choice. Either we can be part of the problem or we can be part of the solution.
This article is for those who want to be part of the solution.
For years, I struggled to understand how to help. I have tried helping too. I have failed again and again, and succeeded here and there. Through this process, I have become clear about one thing - the root of our solutions.
The ultimate reason that we have made such a mess in our world is because we have lost ourselves - our true selves. D.H. Lawrence put it this way. He wrote, "Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe." This is a beautiful expression of a tragic truth. Because we have forgotten that we are interconnected with everyone and everything - that we are not just part of the universe but the universe itself - we have become weak, confused, insecure, aggressive, and to varying degrees, crazy.
There's an ancient piece of shamanic wisdom that says, "As above, so below. As within, so without." In other words, we are on the brink because we have created our world from this compromised internal state.
This is the root of our problems. The root of our solutions is just a hair away. What I'm going to say here is quite simple, profound, and difficult to embody. We have to reconnect to who we really are. We have to plant ourselves again in the universe. We have to realize that we are the universe.
When we do, there are so many benefits. Here are five of them.
1) We discover in us incredible peace and strength. We make a huge shift from thinking we're small, alone, and fragile to knowing that we're as big and un-overwhelmable as the universe.
2) Our emotional capacity expands enormously. When we realize that we are truly vast, we guard ourselves less and less and resist our difficult emotions less and less. It dawns on us that we are capable of working through our personal, inter-generational, and cultural trauma, as well as our feelings about our current environmental existential crisis. We then increasingly allow ourselves to feel the depths of our pain and gradually move through it. In doing so, we learn how to be fully functional, healthy, sensitive humans who are able to stay awake and engaged.
3) We don't need to hide as much from our self-limiting beliefs. We come face-to-face with the truth of who we are, and in the light of the truth our negative stories fall away. The energy that we had put into shame or self-hatred gets automatically rerouted into love and service.
4) Our ability to communicate improves dramatically. It's as if the fog lifts when we become aware of who we really are. Until then, the false narrative of who we think we are clashes with who we actually are and the result is confusion. This confusion gets relayed when we speak, write, build, or even paint. When we are awake, though, we communicate clearly, directly, and compassionately. Others believe and trust us.
5) When we realize that we are interconnected, our love for everyone begins to flow and we spontaneously start working to help others. We try to relieve suffering and increase joy. This is perhaps the most important benefit of waking up. It turns us into activists, formally or informally. In a nutshell, if we are going to turn the ship around then we are going to need all hands on deck, and spiritual awakening is the source of our inspiration.
If you hear me, please take on or deepen into a spiritual practice with fierce commitment. It can be as religious or secular as you'd like. What do I mean by spiritual practice? I mean anything that helps you snap out of your story of yourself and into the reality of who you are. That could be regular heart-to-hearts with other spiritual practitioners. That could be taking regular hikes. That could be doing meditation regularly. That could be dancing more. That could be doing more yoga. That could be singing more. It could be so many things.
Our future depends on us re-planting our roots. I don't pretend to be an expert in (to expand on the tree metaphor) what the most helpful branches and leaves are. This is sphere of activists, inventors, and artists. However, I am confident in the source of our problems and the source of our solutions. When we return to our true selves, we will help save humanity from the deepest place possible. We will nourish the tree until its branches are thick and long, it is full of leaves, and it is bursting with the fruit of spiritual activism.