a crying child in the face of war, destruction, and chaos
Image by Ri Butov 

In the early days of collapse research, myriad questions about the future pervaded the collapse-aware community: When will collapse happen? How will it happen? Will it be fast or slow? Where is the safest place to live? How many people will die? How many people will live?

As attention turned from an exclusive interest in the collapse of industrial civilization toward climate chaos and the extinction of spe­cies, the same questions were asked again, but more desperately.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, these questions seem almost laughable because if the pandemic has proven anything it is that certainty is its most notable victim. Perhaps nothing is more unknown than the virus itself. Yes, a panoply of scientists can offer a few specific facts, but the virus seems to be what Winston Churchill described as “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Can any reality be more disconcerting for the Western mindset spawned from a scientific revolution that declared that the human mind can (and should) know or be able to figure out anything and everything?

The emergence of this virus should remind us that uncertainty remains intrinsic to the human condition. – EDGAR MORIN

This may be the single most perplexing actuality of the virus which, like climate catastrophe and potential human extinction, has catapulted us instantly into an existential arena.

And now we sit with countless questions about the future. The absolute reality of these questions is that no one can answer them with certainty.

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Question: So, will collapse be fast or slow?

Answer: Yes.

Collapse Presents Opportunity

Each collapse and mini-collapse presents an opportunity for cre­ating a more just, equitable, and compassionate world. In fact, before 2020, who would have understood or believed this quote from the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group?

Quarantine has turned us all into bread-baking, skill-sharing, social­ist gardeners who check in on the elderly, help neighbors in need, advocate for strong social safety nets, finally get why all humans deserve to be well-rewarded for their skill set regardless of how “basic” society views the job (hi, essential worker you suddenly became a hero), and understand that the well-being of one impacts the health of the whole? And y’all want to go back to normal?

I wish this were the whole story, but it isn’t. At the same time that these glorious responses were erupting, we had people in the streets pro­testing social distancing and stay-at-home orders because they considered getting their roots done, making numerous trips to Home Depot in a week, and drinking beer in a baseball stadium with six thousand other people their God-given right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We even had a U.S. Senator, John Kennedy, telling us that we’ve got to open the economy even though we knew that more people would be infected by the virus. “When we end the shutdown, the virus is going to spread faster,” Kennedy acknowledged. “That’s just a fact. And the American people understand that.”

Really? We understand that the economy is more important than human life? This from a supposedly “pro-life” icon? Oh, that’s right—the only human lives that matter are fetuses.

People Are Crazy?

A friend regularly tells me that people are crazy. Although I know this to be true, I recently understood the statement on a deeper level after speaking with another friend who reminded me that the United States has weathered three major traumas in four years. In 2018 and 2019, the bone-rattling reality of potential near-term human extinction became a widely acknowledged fact instead of the fever dream of mad scientists. In 2019 and 2020, we weathered the impeachment hear­ings and the trial of Donald Trump, in addition to the multitudinous Trump scandals with which we were already overwhelmed. And then, the pandemic.

Within four years, at least three colossal traumas.

So now it’s time to talk about trauma, or rather, trauma upon trauma upon trauma.

Trauma Upon Trauma Upon Trauma

Dr. Gabor Maté speaks of the effects of trauma on the amygdala or fear center in the brain, noting that if people were traumatized in childhood, they experience the trauma of a pandemic in different ways. The more traumatized a person is, the more they tend to panic in the face of new trauma.

One definition of trauma is, “Psychological or emotional injury caused by a deeply disturbing experience.”This does not mean that people are consciously aware of this. The majority of people traumatized in childhood do not recognize the fact, and few people in 2020 would have readily named the pandemic as a trauma. In the minds of most Americans, traumas are explosive, highly visible events like September 11, 2001, not quiet, invisible viruses that can shut down countries and kill more people in a month than were killed on 9/11.

Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk notes that one defini­tion of trauma is “being rendered helpless.” In the midst of this pan­demic, unless we defied quarantines, we were rendereded helpless to travel, shop, or socialize freely in the ways we prefer. Overnight, many peo­ples’ lives changed dramatically, and they had no control over the external situation.

Even more frustrating was our collective “not knowing” about when quarantines and social distancing would end. It is this very frustration and panic (and trauma) of not knowing the future that made our experi­ence more traumatic. Our experience was unique in modern history as nearly every aspect of industrial civilization hit an enormous speed bump, and in some cases, completely stopped.

It is as if the Earth was shouting that we are not allowed to move forward and must “shelter in place” on so many levels. We are now in the existential arena where we find that responding only logistically or in a linear fashion is futile. And then the words of the wise poet-elder Wendell Berry begin to sink in: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

Amid all that we can and must do for the Earth and with our com­munities at this time, the real work, the real journey, is inward. There is unequivocally nowhere else to go.

So Where to Begin—or How to Continue?

Among other things, we may want to simply sign up to become students of uncertainty; as the Buddhists say, “When you’re falling, dive.” This will require intention and practice. It does not require us to abstain completely from the news, but it does require us to temper our projections into the future as we practice staying present. This also gives us an opportunity to observe how attached we are to outcomes.

A few years ago I found it necessary to detach from individuals and groups that were constantly predicting near-term human extinction and rehearsing the data of extinction ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Years later, on social media, I see these same individuals echoing the same or new data, prognosticating about the future horrors of climate catastrophe. Each time I notice these, I silently ask: Is that all you got? As if only the future matters and anyone who savors life in the present tense is a self-indulgent imbecile in denial of ecological cataclysm?

News of a global pandemic, was met with, “If you think that’s horrifying, wait until you see what’s coming.” And why, exactly, do I need to know what’s coming? What if I don’t know what’s coming and don’t want to? Yes, I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I’m also asking a real question. The same people who want me to know what’s coming and obsess about it as much as they do have no problem telling me that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, and therefore, as they love to recite like a rosary from hell, “we’re fucked.”

Fortunately, I can chew gum and walk. I am well aware of what’s coming, but I choose not to live there morning, noon, and night because I have a moral obligation to myself and to all living beings around me to live—not talk, but live—a life of integrity, compassion, and service in the present moment. Addiction to death and “what’s coming?” What a brilliant way to hide from life!

A Sane Response to the Death of Certainty

The only sane response to the death of certainty is to practice being present to life from moment to moment. This does not mean ignoring the future or failing to connect the dots of the present with those in the future. What it does mean is committing to practicing presence while being awake to predicament.

A crucial aspect of practicing presence is attending to the body. By this I do not mean exercise, taking supplements, or getting the body in shape. While these are excellent forms of self-care, the focus should be on grounding one’s awareness in the body as opposed to mentally obsessing about the future.

Author and body awareness teacher Philip Shepherd offers several practices for grounding in the body and refining our perspective of past, present, and future. I am particularly fond of his focus on the pelvic bowl, rather than the mind, as our emotional and spiritual GPS in troubled times. Also useful are Eckhart Tolle’s brief remarks on stepping more deeply into presence.

Trauma healing practices are available in many venues online. Collapse is calling us to heal our trauma wounds, but it is also calling us to help heal and serve the Earth community; however, the body must be our “base camp” in turbulent times. As we learn how to ground in it, we develop discernment, rather than just accumulating more information about collapse and how it is shaping the present and the future. From our base camp, we can more clearly hear callings to the kinds of service and community engagement that collapse is demanding.

Edgar Morin writes that we now

“...have a chance to develop a lasting awareness of the human truths that we all know but remain buried in our subconscious, and which are that love, friendship, fellowship and solidarity are what quality of life is all about.”

Let us not waste this crisis. 

Editor's Note: While this article was written in 2020, it's precepts apply to many aspects of our current modern-day life.

Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Printed with permission of the publisher.

Article Source:

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book cover of Radical Regeneration by Carolyn Baker and Andrew HarveyWhat is being made crystal clear is that humanity stands at a monumentally fragile threshold with two stark choices placed before it in a situation of complete uncertainty. Those choices are: 1) To continue to worship a vision of power, totally distanced from sacred reality 2) Or to choose the path of submitting bravely to the alchemy of being transfigured by a global dark night event that shatters all illusions but reveals the greatest imaginable possibility being born out of the greatest imaginable disaster.

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About the Authors

photo of Andrew HarveyAndrew Harvey is an internationally renowned religious scholar, writer, teacher, and the author of more than 30 books. The founder and director of the Institute for Sacred Activism, he lives in Chicago, Illinois.photo of Carolyn Baker, Ph.D.,

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is a former psychotherapist and professor of psychology and history. The author of several books, she offers life and leadership coaching as well as spiritual counseling and works closely with the Institute for Sacred Activism. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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