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Facing an Unprecedented Crisis

The seeds of war and of peace - the seeds of planetary wellness - are in the human mind. In the section for professionals we have looked at the many ways in which the Paradigm of Disconnection calls forth acts of separation and denial, domination, and control - the dominator model, which appears as authoritarian social structures. We have emphasized that changing this system requires that we recognize it acts within us as well as upon us. We need to simultaneously proceed with our inner and outer work. With this awareness, we can create ripples, we can create waves. We can create a new world.

We are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, from the growing threat of worldwide violence to the progressive destruction of our environment, and the unprecedented visibility of human misery - all rendering possible, for the first time in history, the demise of our species.

What can be disorienting is the apparent public apathy in the face of this crisis. It is, however, comprehensible when we consider that what we are seeing is not apathy, but fear of expressing and experiencing the pain we feel for our world.

Joanna Macy, in Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, addresses our need to deal with our knowledge and feelings about this crisis in ways that release energy and vision for creative response. Despair and empowerment work helps us increase our awareness of the present crisis without feeling overwhelmed by the dread, grief, anger, and powerlessness this knowledge arouses in us.

Distress Is Natural and Healthy

Macy's work is grounded in the understanding that given the current situation, widespread feelings of distress are natural. She validates our pain for our world as, in fact, healthy. We are all part of the larger whole. Our pain is a measure of our humanity. It is morbid only if denied. Our denial is due to the massive cultural and psychological forces causing us to repress our responses. We block it because it hurts, it is frightening, and perhaps especially because we don�t understand it. In our culture, pain is considered a dysfunction, aberration, or sign of personal weakness.

Actually it is the denial of pain that is dysfunctional. The cost of our denial is measured in numbness and feelings of isolation and impotence. It is measured in the hatred and suspicions that divide us, for repressed despair seeks scapegoats. It turns inward in depression and is expressed through the self-destructive behaviors that are rampant in our society. The conspiracy of silence concerning our deepest feelings about the future, the degree of numbing, isolation, burnout, and cognitive confusion that result from it - all converge to produce a sense of futility. We are afraid that if we consciously acknowledge our fear, we will be overwhelmed by it, lost in it - but despair, like any emotion, is dynamic. Once experienced, it flows through us.

Macy illustrates the many ways in which repression takes a toll on our energies. It tends to paralyze us. It builds a sense of isolation and powerlessness. It fosters resistance to painful but essential information. We are drained of energy we need for action and clear thinking. Our psychic numbing affects other aspects of our life as well - for if we are not going to let ourselves feel pain, we will not feel much else either.

No one is exempt from that pain... It is as natural to us as the food and air that we draw from our environment to fashion who we are. It is inseparable from the currents of matter, energy and information that flow through us and sustain us as interconnected open systems. We are not closed off from the world, but integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When part of that body is traumatized, we sense that trauma too - in the sufferings of fellow beings, in the pillage of our planet, and even in the violation of future generations. When the condition of the larger system falters, sickens, as is occurring in our present age of exploitation and nuclear technology, the disturbance we feel at a semi-conscious level is acute. Like the impulses of pain in any ailing organism, they serve a positive purpose, these impulses of pain are warning signals. —Joanna Macy, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age

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