Reflections on our participation in a world gone wrong

I woke up this morning with an aching heart. The reality of our challenge piercing through the veil of our modern lives. We spent yesterday at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. An incredible place, where we were brought into the under water world. It was a wonderful experience. We spent all afternoon as a family moving through the Aquariaum. Marvelling at the beauty of the Knysna seahorses, being transfixed by the sheer size of the giant spider crab, and falling in love with the solo green sea turtle. By the end I was inspired by my meeting with Life and distressed by my meeting with Man.

Much of the messaging at the Aquarium was around how man is impacting marine life, with ensuing advice to counter the challenge: Don’t buy plastic bags, stop eating prawns, only eat fish on the SASSI green list (this is a list compiled by the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, which groups fish according to a green, orange and red list. Those on the green are still fine to consume, those on the orange pose cause for concern either because of overfishing or because the fishing/farming method poses ham to the environment, and red are fish that unsustainable and/or illegal to fish in South Africa).

Whilst this messaging was a big part of the displays they were at the same time prominently presenting their sponsors: I&J the largest fish processing company in South Africa, and the Ocean Basket, the nation-wide fish restaurant chain. Even these companies in their messaging at the aquarium were encouraging us to only eat fish off the green list, and yet I am certain they themselves sell fish that are on the orange list, such as prawns, kingklip, or line-caught mackerel. It reminds me of conversations at the recent WEF summer meeting in China around sustainability. They mostly focused on how to get the consumers to want to buy sustainable products. The sub-text seemed to be, “for as long as they are willing to buy products that destroy the earth, we will have to continue to provide them.” “We have to stay competitive”. And so passionate men and women were working together to educate the consumers. Whilst this is obviously important, I did not encounter conversations on how we might tackle the challenge further upstream; how we might begin to shift a system, which requires constant growth for a business to survive. Grow, grow, grow. Or die. And so as a result we turn mother-nature into a commodity – into many! – and relationships into services, moving further away from community and into trans-actionality. And this we assume to be the natural way. In fact it seems to me that anything that questions this is radical, counter culture, activism – words that all have negative connotations.

So the wonderful woman at the aquarium was teaching us about the penguins and the tragedy of the plastic bags, and the bottle caps that kill so many birds and seals. I am sure she longs for a world in which these animals that she cares so deeply about can live without being threatened by man – and yet she is also living in a world where her daily existence, shopping, eating, driving to work, are all directly contributing to this plight, which she wishes to alleviate. We each are. I recently read an article about a woman who has spent the last five years not buying any plastic. As she has not started making things herself, it has meant living without bottled water, meat (most is wrapped in some kind of packaging), yoghurt, etc.. She was described as a zealot. I take it that living sustainably in today’s systems may require zealous behaviour.

My mind returns to my work in Zimbabwe. In which we are entering more consciously questions of sustainable living, natural and organic food and products for the home, where we are learning how to grow and make our own medicine – and, this is the new part, begin to turn that into our own local economy, to begin to be able to exchange these products filled with goodness, and even love, with each other. And in so doing to strengthen our communities, to re-create even, bonds that have been weakened or severed by the advent of a consumer focused monetised world. And let me be clear: Money is not in and of itself the problem. Having it enter every single human and natural domain is. Having it be designed to create scarcity through its creation as debt, so that more always begets more, is a deep-seated problem of our monetary system.

So I wonder – as I feel a pull now to not only live our own small but important experiment. I wonder what might be our contribution to the larger shift of which I hope we are a part? How might we, with the many many others who are stepping out of a system, a machine, that we can see no longer serves us; how can we be a part of changing its DNA? Business is not inherently evil. But business is no longer, ultimately, in the business of producing quality products and services to people – things they believe in and are proud of contributing to the world. Business, through this inherently growth-propelled system, which we have co-created, is in the business of growing money – and that is a very different bottom line.

So this is my question – what can we do? We are probably millions of us, perhaps even billions who want a different reality, who have begun to take the steps towards it in our respective locales, who often have found the need to unplug to varying degrees from the machine, and yet recognise that we are needed to support the fundamental change to its DNA. Charles Eisenstein’s work has helped me see how some of the basic workings of the monetary system perpetuate our situation, and has thus also helped me recognise that it can be different. I no longer think it is just the way it is, and human nature of greed and competition will always produce something like what we have today. No. We don’t need to have a system, a global system, which is devouring the earth, community, love and ultimately itself. It can be different – where money is in right relationship, where communities flourish, where creativity is alive, children cherished, natured revered, where a forest standing is worth more to most of us than a forest felled. Intellectually I can even see what the different components might be to enable this, and there are many books out there to read if you want to learn more. What I don’t see is the pathway that will take us there, and more importantly for me in this moment, I don’t see my role in helping make that shift. My work in Zimbabwe is important, and I will continue doing it, diligently, with great passion, joy and love. And, yet, still I have a sense of a need to connect the dots, to hook up across  the planet, somehow…

Perhaps simply being in the question is enough for now. Being in the question of what will it take for us, who long for a shift, and what can be my role to support that shift, from the wonderful gritty practicality of the local, to the larger shift of the global.

Ah – that we may be a part of it – a return to a world that our hearts long for; and that our hearts know to be possible… but that our minds cannot yet grasp.

May it be so.

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11 thoughts on “Reflections on our participation in a world gone wrong

  1. Ahhh. The paradoxes of the modern world. Perhaps our means of educating – with virtual worlds that capture the essence of life you experienced without interfering with that very life we long for in the world. To be compassionate to self, maybe for now it is enough to be aware, to make more aware through this kind of sharing, continue to hold the depth of intention for wholeness in the world that plants the seeds for more of what we want. Thank you for a lovely post.

    1. Yes, definitely compassion to self is critical – and I am noting a definite tension between the holding openly and lightly and wanting to step into some kind of doing about it. My sense is to keep stepping into more of what we long for, even as we know that these steps on their own are not enough. I have a sense of the seeming miracle shift from Apartheid, but it was caused by people who kept stepping, and kept reminding themselves of the world they wanted. And perhaps this is the role of the connecting of dots – to become a larger force of people who if not, know clearly, then at least have a sense of the world we want and are each in our different parts of the systems we belong to taking those steps. One by one, step by step.

    1. What a wonderful post you have written (go check it out everyone :). And what an apt reminder to not hold on so tightly to the hope for change, but do whatever it is we do, because it is the right thing to do. And not, I think, from a purely intellectual place, but from the place of our heart egging us on :).

  2. Thank you all you wonderful wordsmiths.
    Not that I have the answer, but what makes most sense to me , and is at the same time also the hardest task, is to practice radical self-acceptance and compassion.

    1. I like this – it reminds me of a conversation earlier this year with friends in which we wondered and then began to realize just how radical the act of self-love is. And that perhaps our inability to practice and live this (because this we cannot do simply as a ‘should’) is part of what has brought our world to look the way it does. It makes sense then that the root to the shift of our world is the radical act of self-acceptance and compassion, from which I must trust will spring a very different form of being and acting in the world.

      It is of course a journey. It is not that I will go meditate until I have self-love. It is a journey where each day I keep walking my path, doing my work, and in that learning how to open my self and my heart more and more and more to myself and to the sacred in all of creation. As I reflect it feels like it is in part a reconnection with the sacred in all of existence.

      And I am probably getting way to intellectual here ;-). It is good to be in this conversation with you all.

  3. Oooh this is good – “from the place of our heart egging us on”. What question that could make “Where is your heart egging you on?” Or put on a sticky on your desk for those rough days “Today was tough. Listen quietly. Hear the sound of your heart egging you on”. Love it!

  4. Ah, thank you for sharing this experience with us, Marianne! How beautifully you have evoked the way we are all the system that we are trying to change. It made me think of some of my own blog posts that I wrote during a time of soul-saving burnout a couple of years ago. A quick extract: “So the pattern I am seeing is the overlay of two filters that are mutually exclusive – or are they just in a paradoxical relationship? There’s the one that is our sensing and longing into future possibility, and our experimenting and prototyping how to get there; and there’s the other, which is the holder of our deep, deep collective conditioning, that holds our unshakable belief that things are the way they are because this is the only way they can be… The only truth is the prevailing world view, and any changes we make must be made in its terms.

    This is where the confusion lies – and our edge is in teasing out these two lenses and learning to distinguish which thoughts are coming from which space. Once we have that clarity, we can begin to move with choice and intention: away from a paradigm that is no longer serving humanity or our planetary home, and towards the next paradigm that can bring us back towards balance, health and wholeness.”

    It’s good to know that there are so many small oases of light in this madness. I bow to you in Zimbabwe, from here in Belgium. You are not alone, and the dots are joining beneath the surface.

  5. I have also recently been in simliar inquiries around the “path forward.” Last week in a virtual “café-style” conversation around indigenous wisdom, we were exploring a question something like this:

    “Imagine you are already living in the world we long for, a world of harmony, equanimity, peace and fulfillment on an individual and collective level. Looking back through your heart’s eyes, how did we arrive here?”

    While it is not so difficult to imagine and even describe this future world of our longing, my intellect was nagging me with questions of HOW. How is it that we arrived here? Through my exploration of this question with others at my virtual café table, I realized that simply feeling fully, following intuition and instinct, staying present in the unknown and confusion; and really living into the FACT that we are all interconnected in multiple ways are part of the answer to this how.

    The phenomenon that we see of the commodification of everything and the pervasive questions about how we get people to “buy” green products or lifestyle for me is simply indicative of the old system trying to preserve itself again. Though I can’t say definitively that small-scale, local experiments everywhere are “the answer,” it is important to me to trust that each time I take some small but radical step of resistance to the old system “business as usual” way of being, that it is… (or could be when combined with another million or billion small actions)… enough.

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