In March, 2011, I returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?
In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported in mainstream news. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like the 2012 election campaign.
And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world where having a full-time job is becoming increasingly rare, how they will access healthcare without insurance or the money to pay out of pocket, or how they will make ends meet in forced or voluntary retirement.
Obviously, these anxieties are relevant to the world’s middle classes and not to teeming masses of human beings living on two dollars per day or less. Ironically, however, it is frequently the case that for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing. They hear no reports of nuclear meltdowns, and even if they did, such news would seem insignificant in the face of needing to secure food or water for today—a type of existence that contains its own traumas and yields dramatically short lifespans.
However, in 2012 we now know that millions of Americans are living on $2 a day or less.
Having inhabited a middle class existence, one can only comfort oneself for so long by reflecting on the plight of the destitute in places removed from oneself. One’s immediate reality is an anomalous deprivation, a stark loss of the familiar, and the looming reality that things will not get better, but only worse, and that these losses are unpredictably punctuated with frightening events such as extreme weather, natural disasters, nuclear meltdowns, or the terrifying consequences of rotting infrastructure such as pipeline explosions or collapsing bridges. These realities take their toll on the body—sleepless nights, a weakened immune system, moodiness, anger, depression, despair, and often, suicidal thinking. Whether the trauma is dramatic and frequent such as a 9.0 earthquake in Japan followed by high intensity aftershocks, or whether it slowly grinds on amid a disquieting sense of the permanent loss of so much that one held dear, the landscapes of countless lives are forever, painfully altered, emotionally littered with charred shells of once exuberant and robust routines.
Yes YOU Have Been Traumatized
But, you may argue, I haven’t been traumatized. My life is amazingly normal. I’m weathering the collapse of industrial civilization reasonably well and feel profoundly grateful.
Indeed I celebrate your good fortune, but I must add that no inhabitant of industrial civilization is without trauma because that paradigm is by definition, traumatizing.
It is only when you understand the extent to which you have been traumatized outside of your awareness that you can effectively prepare for and yes, welcome, the demise of empire and its ghastly assaults on your soul and the earth community.
In the face of extreme weather events and earth changes, skyrocketing food and energy prices, increasingly dramatic expressions of civil unrest globally, massive unemployment, global economic evisceration of the middle classes, and the proliferation of toxins worldwide—whether from fracking in Pennsylvania or leaking reactors in Japan, we are all in varying states of emotional breakdown and breakthrough. The sands are shifting under the feet of all human beings on this planet. Nothing is as it seems. “Things fall apart,” said William Butler Yeats, “the center cannot hold.”
Call it whatever you like—collapse, Transition, Great Turning. Put a happy face on it or a terrified one, but regardless of how you spin it, regardless of how much you want to feel good about it—and there is much to feel good about, the changes are dizzying, sometimes delightful, sometimes devastating. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be alive, and it’s an excruciating time to be alive. Sometimes one feels schizophrenic, sometimes bipolar. But all of that, yes all of that, is traumatizing to the human nervous system, and if we don’t recognize that, we’re probably hiding out in the “Hurt Locker” of empire.
So how do we not hide out? How do we face our trauma, begin healing it, and protect ourselves as much as humanly possible from further wounding, particularly as life becomes even more traumatic?
The Transition movement has provided us with a treasure-trove of resources for cultivating logistical resilience in our communities through awareness-raising, reskilling, and creating self-sufficient and sustainable communities. Anyone not involved in this kind of logistical preparation is only half-awake, yet many individuals believe that no other preparation is necessary. Might that not, in fact, be one characteristic of trauma? Just as the PTSD-scarred combat veteran insists that all he needs is another good battle to make him feel better, it may be that the hunger for one more gold or silver coin, one more case of freeze-dried food, one more bucket of barley, one more permaculture class, one more emergency response training is yet another means of avoiding the emotional healing and preparation work every human being needs to do in order to navigate the accelerating unraveling of the world as we have known it.
A Few Ways Of Developing Emotional Resilience
* Understand that industrial civilization is inherently traumatizing. Make a list of the ways it has wounded you and those you care about.
* If you are involved with a Transition initiative, start or join a heart and soul group where the psychology of change (see The Transition Handbook) can be discussed in depth and group members can share feelings about the acceleration of collapse as well as share how they are preparing for it emotionally.
* Become familiar with your emotional repertoire and how you deal with your emotions—or not. Imagine the kinds of emotions that you and others are likely to feel in an unraveling world. How do you imagine yourself dealing with those emotions? How would you prefer to deal with them?
* Think about how you need to take care of yourself right now in an increasingly stressful world. What stresses do you need to pull back from? What self-nurturing activities do you need to increase?
* Who is your support system? If you do not have people in your life with whom you can discuss the present and coming chaos, you are doubly stressed. Find people with whom you can talk about this on a regular basis.
* What are you doing to create joy in your life? Do you have places in your life where you can have fun without spending money or without talking about preparation for the future?
* What are you doing to create beauty? Life may become uglier on many levels, including the physical environment. How can you infuse more beauty into the world? Use art, music, poetry, dance, theater, storytelling and other media to enhance the beauty of your community and your immediate environment.
* Consider creating a regular poetry reading salon in which people come together perhaps monthly to share poems or stories which express the full range of human emotions. Many communities have found poetry sharing events to be incredibly rich venues for deepening connections and their own emotional resilience.
* Spend as much time as possible in nature. Read books and articles on ecopsychology and take contemplative walks or hikes in which you intentionally engage in dialog with nature.
* Engage at least twice a day in some kind of mindfulness practice such as meditation, inner listening, journaling, guided visualization. Still another tool for mindfulness and community deepening is sacred earth-based rituals which can be done individually or shared in a group.
It is important to remember that challenging experiences are not necessarily traumatizing experiences. The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will constitute massive trauma. The less attached we are to living life as we have known it, and the more open and resilient we are—the more we are utilizing the myriad tools that exist for preparing our emotions, our bodies, and our souls for collapse, the more capacity we create for navigating a formidable future.
My 2011 book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition is chock full of re-usable tools for creating and maintaining vibrant emotional resilience. It is also ideal for use in Transition heart and soul or study groups focused on creating emotional resilience.
I do not assume that a world of increasing crises will be a world devoid of cooperation or community building. In her brilliant 2009 book, A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit notes that in most natural disasters, human beings, in most cases, unite in a spirit of cooperation to support each other. While I certainly concur and reviewed Solnit’s book in an article entitled, “Disaster: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” I am also well aware that cooperation is not the only response to trauma. Furthermore, the collapse of industrial civilization is most likely to play out in an irregular, “lumpy” fashion in different locations at different times. How it plays out and over what period of time will dictate how humans respond. One thing is certain: Responses will not always be benevolent, caring, and cooperative.
Thus we must prepare for a very uncertain future by consciously cultivating emotional resilience. This involves addressing the myriad ways in which we have been traumatized by the current paradigm and training with intention for encountering situations in the future which may be even more emotionally challenging in a world unraveling.