Navigating the Collapse of Civilization: a Spiritual Map
by Carolyn Baker, Ph.D
EXCERPTSUnquestionably, collapse will be brutal and agonizing. It is, in fact, the cessation of life based on fossil fuels. It will be physically, economically, emotionally, and spiritually excruciating.
It will test human beings, particularly those individuals who are not members of the ruling elite but who enjoy privileged, comfortable lifestyles devoid of sacrifice and inconvenience, beyond anything they could imagine in their worst nightmares. Some will endure; others will perish; in fact, some experts speculate that at least one-third of humans on planet Earth will not survive. Whether collapse occurs slowly or quickly, it will be torturous.
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So what might be some of the gifts of collapse?
First, collapse strips us of who we think we are so that who we really are may be revealed. Civilization's toxicity has fostered the illusion that one is, for example, a professional person with money in the bank, a secure mortgage, a good credit rating, a healthy body and mind, raising healthy children who will grow up to become successful like oneself, and that when one retires, one will be well-taken-care of. If that has become your identity, and if you don't look deeper, you won't discover who you really are; and when collapse happens, you will be shattered because you have failed to notice the strengths, resources, and gifts that abide in your essence which transcend and supersede your ego-identity. In a post-collapse world, academic degrees and stock portfolios matter little. The real question, as Richard Heinberg so succinctly puts it is: Do you know how to make shoes?
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Secondly, collapse will decimate our anti-tribal, individualistic, Anglo-American programming by forcing us to join with others for survival. You may own a home outright with ample acreage on which you have produced a stunning organic garden, have a ten-year cache of food and water, drive a hybrid car, and live a completely solarized life, but if you think you will survive in isolation, you are tragically deluded. Collapse dictates that we will depend on each other, or we will die.
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Moreover, collapse may bring meaning and purpose to our lives which might otherwise have eluded us. In our linear, progress-based existence, we rarely contemplate words like “purpose.” With civilization's collapse, we may be forced to evaluate daily, perhaps moment to moment, why we are here, if we want to remain here, if life is worth living, if there is something greater than ourselves for which we are willing to remain alive and to which we choose to contribute energy. These decisions probably will not be made in the cozy comfort of our homes, but in the streets, the fields, the deserts, the forests, and beside forgotten rivers and trails. Purpose will rapidly cease being about what we can accomplish and will increasingly become more about who we are. In a collapsing world, the so-called “purpose-driven life” will no longer exist. Humans will be “driven” by only one issue: the determination to survive and assist loved ones in surviving. From that quest for survival will emerge authentic purpose, which will undoubtedly not resemble anything we can imagine today.
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In a post-collapse world, “fundamental” spirituality will be about caring for the basic needs of loved ones, becoming nurturing stewards of the ecosystems in whatever condition they may be at that time, noticing what one now values as opposed to what was most important prior to collapse—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling all aspects of existence to which we were oblivious, or only mildly attentive, before the distractions were stripped away. Certainly, this is not likely to be the comfortable, privileged, indulgent spirituality of the New Age workshop circuit, but may more closely resemble the earth-based honoring of the sacred that our tribal ancestors so dearly revered.
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For millennia, many indigenous people have described the demise of civilization we are now witnessing as a purification process—a time of rebirth and transformation. Their ancient wisdom challenges us to face with equanimity the collapse that is in process; that is, to hold as much as humanly possible in our hearts and minds, the reality of the pain the collapse will entail, alongside the unimaginable opportunities it offers.