Friday, June 26, 2015



It's been a long time, the longest that I have not posted since my sabbatical period 2006-7 to research nuclear power and come to grips with its potential to help reduce CO2 emissions.  In the fall, I led a retreat in Knoxville, “Collapsing Consciously.” In my related post, I explained how the group held me up, healing my own despair. This was critically important, for if the leader models despair, what are the retreatants learning?

This March, I led two retreats, one for the revitalized Earthcare Action Network of Southern Appalachian Meeting, the second another version of “Collapsing Consciously,” on sacred aboriginal ground, now called Common Ground, aka Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting, in Black Mountain, NC. Back in Knoxville, a retreatant from the fall session sat with me at lunch before I left, sharing her own depression induced by the Bad News that I had summarized as context for our work in that retreat. Thankfully, she found she had the spiritual resources to overcome her despair/depression. This was very valuable feedback. In two weeks, I was going to be leading a very similar retreat, and I decided to warn participants in a letter prior to our gathering of this danger.

I should have heeded the warning myself more deeply. Though each of the March retreats included the central exercise of despair-empowerment work, the Truth Mandala, the Earthcare Action retreat was within the context of renewal, and had some lighter touches built into it. In Black Mountain, collapse on virtually all fronts was again our context. The retreat was a powerful one, my deepest experience of the Truth Mandala, including that experienced in my training with my mentor Joanna Macy fifteen years ago. As was the case in the fall, the make-up of the group strongly influenced the overall tone, and this time there were four people (including myself) who had deeply shared the Earth's pain, actively working with/through it for a number of years. So we went much deeper, and our brave cohorts went with us, including a couple of newbies, one of whom went from initial shock to acceptance of a world condition he had ignored heretofore. One woman went through a transformational experience. This was why I did this work, I told myself as I headed for home, completely spent.

The next month took me full circle, back into the despair I had not fully acknowledged in the fall, this time bottoming out, with images and experiences returning from a breakdown in fall 1984. I was down with a bad cold for a full month, and depressed. In February, I had watched several in Michael Dowd's series of interviews, “The Future is Calling Us to Greatness.” Though I had read many of these folks, I benefited from hearing the lively dialogue with Michael, and watching their beautiful, thoughtful, brave faces. And I met some new figures, including Kathleen Dean Moore. But the key that eventually turned me around was looking up a reference from his interview with Brian McLaren ( a Quaker professor of religion from Claremont) to JL Schellenberg's Evolutionary Religion. Clayton noted that Schellenberg was confident that, even if our species went extinct, there would be “beings like us” on this planet who would continue to function as intelligent creatures capable of religious experience and thought.

This was the turning point for me, and I steadily climbed back out of my slough of despair as I read the book. I learned yet again that I cannot – and I suspect this is true of virtually everybody – do ecospiritual work without hope. In the next post, I'll talk in some detail about how Evolutionary Religion led me back into the land of Hope.

Some of the Old Testament prophets likewise had to struggle with despair. I have found it a rewarding exercise to ponder where and how they found their strength.
Thank you, Marshall. I suspect such an exercise would require reading them pretty carefully, then imagining their situation, getting in their shoes. But hang on for my going in a very different direction with this. I am drafting the next post now - should be done in a couple of days.
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