Depression, anxiety, and fatigue are an essential part of a process of metamorphosis that is unfolding on the planet today, and highly significant for the light they shed on the transition from an old world to a new.
When a growing fatigue or depression becomes serious, and we get a diagnosis of Epstein-Barr or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or hypothyroid or low serotonin, we typically feel relief and alarm. Alarm: something is wrong with me. Relief: at least I know I’m not imagining things; now that I have a diagnosis, I can be cured, and life can go back to normal. But of course, a cure for these conditions is elusive.
The notion of a cure starts with the question, “What has gone wrong?” But there is another, radically different way of seeing fatigue and depression that starts by asking, “What is the body, in its perfect wisdom, responding to?” When would it be the wisest choice for someone to be unable to summon the energy to fully participate in life?
The answer is staring us in the face. When our soul-body is saying No to life, through fatigue or depression, the first thing to ask is, “Is life as I am living it the right life for me right now?” When the soul-body is saying No to participation in the world, the first thing to ask is, “Does the world as it is presented me merit my full participation?”
What if there is something so fundamentally wrong with the world, the lives, and the way of being offered us, that withdrawal is the only sane response? Withdrawal, followed by a reentry into a world, a life, and a way of being wholly different from the one left behind?
The unspoken goal of modern life seems to be to live as long and as comfortably as possible, to minimize risk and to maximize security. We see this priority in the educational system, which tries to train us to be “competitive” so that we can “make a living”. We see it in the medical system, where the goal of prolonging life trumps any consideration of whether, sometimes, the time has come to die. We see it in our economic system, which assumes that all people are motivated by “rational self-interest”, defined in terms of money, associated with security and survival. (And have you ever thought about the phrase “the cost of living”?) We are supposed to be practical, not idealistic; we are supposed to put work before play. Ask someone why she stays in a job she hates, and as often as not the answer is, “For the health insurance.” In other words, we stay in jobs that leave us feeling dead in order to gain the assurance of staying alive. When we choose health insurance over passion, we are choosing survival over life.
On a deep level, which I call the soul level, we want none of that. We recognize that we are here on earth to enact a sacred purpose, and that most of the jobs on offer are beneath our dignity as human beings. But we might be too afraid to leave our jobs, our planned-out lives, our health insurance, or whatever other security and comfort we have received in exchange for our divine gifts. Deep down, we recognize this security and comfort as slaves’ wages, and we yearn to be free.
So, the soul rebels. Afraid to make the conscious choice to step away from a slave’s life, we make the choice unconsciously instead. We can no longer muster the energy to go through the motions. We enact this withdrawal from life through a variety of means. We might summon the Epstein-Barr virus into our bodies, or mononucleosis, or some other vector of chronic fatigue. We might shut down our thyroid or adrenal glands. We might shut down our production of serotonin in the brain. Other people take a different route, incinerating the excess life energy in the fires of addiction. Either way, we are in some way refusing to participate. We are shying away from ignoble complicity in a world gone wrong. We are refusing to contribute our divine gifts to the aggrandizement of that world.
That is why the conventional approach of fixing the problem so that we can return to normal life will not work. It might work temporarily, but the body will find other ways to resist. Raise serotonin levels with SSRIs, and the brain will prune some receptor sites, thinking in its wisdom, “Hey, I’m not supposed to feel good about the life I am living right now.” In the end, there is always suicide, a common endpoint of the pharmaceutical regimes that seek to make us happy with something inimical to our very purpose and being. You can only force yourself to abide in wrongness so long. When the soul’s rebellion is suppressed too long, it can explode outward in bloody revolution. Significantly, all of the school shootings in the last decade have involved people on anti-depression medication. All of them! For a jaw-dropping glimpse of the results of the pharmaceutical regime of control, scroll down this compilation of suicide/homicide cases involving SSRIs. I am not using “jaw-dropping” as a figure of speech. My jaw literally dropped open.
Back in the 1970s, dissidents in the Soviet Union were often hospitalized in mental institutions and given drugs similar to the ones used to treat depression today. The reasoning was that you had to be insane to be unhappy in the Socialist Workers’ Utopia. When the people treating depression receive status and prestige from the very system that their patients are unhappy with, they are unlikely to affirm the basic validity of the patient’s withdrawal from life. “The system has to be sound — after all, it validates my professional status — therefore the problem must be with you.”
Unfortunately, “holistic” approaches are no different, as long as they deny the wisdom of the body’s rebellion. When they do seem to work, usually that is because they coincide with some other shift. When someone goes out and gets help, or makes a radical switch of modalities, it works as a ritual communication to the unconscious mind of a genuine life change. Rituals have the power to make conscious decisions real to the unconscious. They can be part of taking back one’s power.
I have met countless people of great compassion and sensitivity, people who would describe themselves as “conscious” or “spiritual”, who have battled with CFS, depression, thyroid deficiency, and so on. These are people who have come to a transition point in their lives where they become physically incapable of living the old life in the old world. That is because, in fact, the world presented to us as normal and acceptable is anything but. It is a monstrosity. Ours is a planet in pain. If you need me to convince you of that, if you are unaware of the destruction of forests, oceans, wetlands, cultures, soil, health, beauty, dignity, and spirit that underlies the System we live in, then I have nothing to say to you. I only am speaking to you if you do believe that there is something deeply wrong with the way we are living on this planet.
A related syndrome comprises various “attention deficit” and anxiety “disorders” (forgive me, I cannot write down these words without the ironic quotation marks) which reflect an unconscious knowledge that something is wrong around here. Anxiety, like all emotions, has a proper function. Suppose you left a pot on the stove and you know you forgot something, you just can’t remember what. You cannot rest at ease. Something is bothering you, something is wrong. Subliminally you smell smoke. You obsess: did I leave the water running? Did I forget to pay the mortgage? The anxiety keeps you awake and alert; it doesn’t let you rest; it keeps your mind churning, worrying. This is good. This is what saves your life. Eventually you realize — the house is on fire! — and anxiety turns into panic, and action.
So if you suffer from anxiety, maybe you don’t have a “disorder” at all — maybe the house is on fire. Anxiety is simply the emotion corresponding to “Something is dangerously wrong and I don’t know what it is.” That is only a disorder if there is in fact nothing dangerously wrong. “Nothing is wrong, just you” is the message that any therapy gives when it tries to fix you. I disagree with that message. The problem is not with you. You have very good reason to be anxious. Anxiety keeps part of your attention away from your tasks of polishing the silverware as the house burns down, of playing the violin as the Titanic sinks. Unfortunately, the wrongness you are tapping into might be beyond the cognizance of the psychiatrists who treat you, who then conclude that the problem must be your brain.
Similarly, Attention Deficit Disorder, ADHD, and my favorite, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are only disorders if we believe that the things presented for our attention are worth paying attention to. We cannot admit, without calling into question the whole edifice of our school system, that it may be completely healthy for a ten-year-old boy to not sit still for six hours in a classroom learning about long division and Vasco de Gama. Perhaps the current generation of children, that some call the Indigos, simply have a lower tolerance for school’s agenda of conformity, obedience, external motivation, right-and-wrong answers, the quantification of performance, rules and bells, report cards and grades and your permanent record. So we try to enforce their attention with stimulants, and subdue their heroic intuitive rebellion against the spirit-wrecking machine.
As I write about the “wrongness” against which we all rebel, I can hear some readers asking, “What about the metaphysical principle that it’s ‘all good’?” Just relax, I am told, nothing is wrong, all is part of the divine plan. You only perceive it as wrong because of your limited human perspective. All of this is only here for our own development. War: it gives people wonderful opportunities to make heroic choices and burn off bad karma. Life is wonderful, Charles, why do you have to make it wrong?
I am sorry, but usually such reasoning is just a sop to the conscience. If it is all good, then that is only because we perceive and experience it as terribly wrong. The perception of iniquity moves us to right it.
Nonetheless, it would be ignorant and fruitless to pass judgment upon those who do not see anything wrong, who, oblivious to the facts of destruction, think everything is basically fine. There is a natural awakening process, in which first we proceed full speed ahead participating in the world, believing in it, seeking to contribute to the Ascent of Humanity. Eventually, we encounter something that is undeniably wrong, perhaps a flagrant injustice or a serious health problem or a tragedy near at hand. Our first response is to think this is an isolated problem, remediable with some effort, within a system that is basically sound. But when we try to fix it, we discover deeper and deeper levels of wrongness. The rot spreads; we see that no injustice, no horror can stand in isolation. We see that the disappeared dissidents in South America, the child laborers in Pakistan, the clearcut forests of the Amazon, are all intimately linked together in a grotesque tapestry that includes every aspect of modern life. We realize that the problems are too big to fix. We are called to live in an entirely different way, starting with our most fundamental values and priorities.
All of us go through this process, repeatedly, in various realms of our lives; all parts of the process are right and necessary. The phase of full participation is a growth phase in which we develop gifts that will be applied very differently later. The phase of trying to fix, to endure, to soldier on with a life that isn’t working is a maturation phase that develops qualities of patience and determination and strength. The phase of discovering the all-encompassing nature of the problem is usually a phase of despair, but it need not be. Properly, it is a phase of rest, of stillness, of withdrawal, of preparation for a push. The push is a birth-push. Crises in our lives converge and propel us into a new life, a new being that we hardly imagine could exist, except that we’d heard rumors of it, echoes, and maybe even caught a glimpse of it here and there, been granted through grace a brief preview.
If you are in the midst of this process, you need not suffer if you cooperate with it. I can offer you two things. First is self-trust. Trust your own urge to withdraw even when a million messages are telling you, “The world is fine, what’s wrong with you? Get with the program.” Trust your innate belief that you are here on earth for something magnificent, even when a thousand disappointments have told you you are ordinary. Trust your idealism, buried in your eternal child’s heart, that says that a far more beautiful world than this is possible. Trust your impatience that says “good enough” is not good enough. Do not label your noble refusal to participate as laziness and do not medicalize it as an illness. Your heroic body has merely made a few sacrifices to serve your growth.
The second thing I can offer you is a map. The journey I have described is not always linear, and you may find yourself from time to time revisiting earlier territory. When you find the right life, when you find the right expression of your gifts, you will receive an unmistakable signal. You will feel excited and alive. Many people have preceded you on this journey, and many more will follow in times to come. Because the old world is falling apart, and the crises that initiate the journey are converging upon us. Soon many people will follow the paths we have pioneered. Each journey is unique, but all share the same basic dynamics I have described. When you have passed through it, and understood the necessity and rightness of each of its phases, you will be prepared to midwife others through it as well. Your condition, all the years of it, has prepared you for this. It has prepared you to ease the passage of those who will follow. Everything you have gone through, every bit of the despair, has been necessary to forge you into a healer and a guide. The need is great. The time is coming soon.
This article originally appeared in Reality Sandwich
True in every way…I just need to pay the mortgage, and I can’t do that with love alone.
A Grateful Reader says
I hear you.
For myself, I decided to say “No” to a mortgage after seeing it make countless family, friends and acquaintances sick and terribly unhappy. In fact, at one point in my life, I was considered “poor” and even slept on the floor after giving up my possessions in search of a different EXTERNAL world that might mirror the INTERNAL world I had longed for, pined for since a very young child. I never found that world outside of me. My internal world fell apart as a result. Now I am realizing that I have been on the wrong path – the path that has been begging me to blend nicely into the external world. Otherwise I will make the dominant culture fearful or upset.
In any case,…
I have been trying to find this post for almost two weeks. I had read it for the first time about 6 or more months ago. It had a profound effect on me then. It has had an even deeper effect upon me reading it the second time around.
For years I have been struggling with different “diagnoses” and feeling that I was “all wrong.”. I’m beginning to realize that I haven’t been the “problem” I thought I had been all these very many years of my life. However, I didn’t have the best words to describe how I was feeling and experiencing the world around me. This post sums it all up beautifully. Thank you for this post.
Peace and goodness to us all!
The problem is that it’s important to recover from these ‘:disorders’ and symptoms in order to possess the strength to ‘do something about” this world.Acknowledging the ‘wrongness ‘ of it all is the first step on along journey and all get stuck herein self-pity….when really it’s about compassion
A wise article. Just a little pedantic correction though – it’s ‘Oppositional Defiance Disorder’. A psychiatric clinician might jump on you for that one if I don’t mention it! 🙂
Bonnie Fogler says
Great article. And all so familiar. I went through so many of these things before finding coping mechanisms using mind, body, and spirit, then wrote a book about how I did it.
It was a long journey but so worth it to have found the peace I did in the end. Good luck to all who identify with this.
Wonderful. Thank you
Justin Hoenke says
Thank you for writing and sharing this. Even thought I’m reading it nine years after you wrote it, it is still blowing my mind.
Glenda O'Sullivan says
I really enjoy your perspective in many ways., even though some of your generalisations and claims seem me and to be a little simplistic. As someone who has suffered for most of my life with anxiety depression and cognitive differences which make concentration and focus very difficult and also create wild mood swings I believe that my issues are biologically based as well as socially based. Sure schools workplaces communities and government have created systems that are not life enhancing and this is truly destructive for our bodies minds and souls but there are other things going on in all we different individuals which complicate things as well
Kimberly Wise says
Years ago I said to myself, “I’d rather eat banana and live in a tent than do this one more minute of my life.” So I took that leap of faith with everyone around me screaming, “Don’t jump!” I now live in heaven on earth and my wall is adorned with a sign I made, “Trust my SELF NOW!”
Kimberly, please share… How are you living now? I’m ready to take the leap. 🙂
Eleanor Nettleton says
So how is it now? How did you leap?
i think i do resonate with the bod is a messenger with its ailments… being alwasy focused and almost obssessed really with healthy eating and lifestyle, coming down with adrenal fatigue.. muscle and bone issues etc etc has been a real whirlwind for me. believing everything is for a purpose ive made many lifesytle changes to honor the needs of my body only to find it still has been affecting me. When i made the biggest changes though i heard a voice saying… you need to discover your path..this is part of it..move house etc, answers will come. Im in a lull point now, possibly finding the root cause of the physical ailments, however feeling that there a larger picture at work also. Im waiting to be shown what the new path is and look forward to embodying it.
Feeling like there much in need on the planet and not contributing to the healing of it feels so unsatisfying.
I was living in a utopian environment for a few years and recently back in western country has been so challenging, but obviously there are things here i need to be around to embody and find my path
thank you so much for sharing all of this and highlighting how amazing the universe is at making sure we get the message, through one pain or the other as conditions we don’t enjoy, lead to changes made.
somehow ive forgotten everything is perfect that occurs in the larger picture.
Excellent,l excellent piece. So very true, thank you for having the insight and courage to write about this.
One thing that makes me the most desperate feeling is that it seems as though every time my family tries to withdraw, to simplify, to do without, the gov’t comes up with some new thing we have to do that forces us back into participation because prices become higher, regulations become tougher, minimalism is no longer allowed, what have you. Having a garden is great until they decide it is illegal to collect rainwater. Living on a budget is terrific until they make umpteen safety requirements on appliances, cars, healthcare etc that push costs into the stratosphere and force you to consume things much more complicated and expensive than you’d choose if given a choice. We homestead and homeschool, so we’ve largely withdrawn, but every time costs go up, we are that much closer to no longer being able to afford this “simple” life, and the thought of losing the little rural oasis we’ve made for ourselves and being forced fully into modern society is more than my brain can stand. Been there, done that, want no part of it ever again, it is a soul sucking black hole.
I have told my husband that coping with the modern world is like living in a Nintendo game, we just manage to get through one game board without losing too much time or treasure, and whammo, another one pops up loaded with entirely new monsters and challenges. Unfortunately, unlike Mario, I don’t have multiple lives, so the pitfalls are a big deal, LOL.
Mostly, I just wish that our incredibly broken system, based on lies and deceit and violence, would just get it over with and crash irreparably so we could start over. I am sick of living in a rotting, decaying corpse of a culture. I’m way past being able to pretend it smells like roses.
I hear you, I hear you and I could scream from relief of knowing I am not the only one to go through all this. That feeling of being pulled back… it’s like fighting with an octopus that grows three new tentacles in place of every one you have managed to cut off somehow. It won’t let us alone, no way.
I’m still fighting, though. For how long – I don’t know. I’m not giving up yet. It must end somehow, someday. And that end won’t be nice.
I love the analogy to the Mario game it’s so true
Perfectly sums up what I am feeling right now. Thank you for expressing it as I never could.
Lila Eden says
Wow, so helpful, some of this I know, most of it I know, and yet to hear it so clearly feels so comforting for my weary soul
and fatigued heroic body. Thank you with all my heart.
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Holf Yuen says
Thanks so much Charles for your inspiring article! Though this article is 10 years ago, it only gains in relevance as the epidemic of depression, anxiety, bipolar and other mental illnesses become ever more prevalent. I made a traditional Chinese translation here: https://medium.com/@holfyuen/%E6%98%AF%E6%83%85%E7%B7%92%E6%9C%89%E7%97%85%E9%82%84%E6%98%AF%E4%B8%96%E7%95%8C%E6%9C%89%E7%97%85-1ddb4ad449bb
CFS can also be magnesium deficiency….microbiome issues…limbic brain injury…environmental or food toxicity overload…- once these problems were solved, mine went away. Not until they were solved, along with the awakening process you describe which also was going on in a very consciously attended way, did any degree of consistent well being return.
I wouldn’t contend that illness is connected to the biology only. I would say that what we think of as the mind/spirit/body connection isn’t a connect between disparate parts any more than waves could be considered to be a disparate part of water. The biology of the body/spirit/mind/environment/brain/conditioning/light frequencies and the colony of bacteria thereof is something I experience as a oneness. The body is a movement of the spirit. The spirit is a movement of the body. This is how it feels to me. A oneness that is more easily able to functional physically optimally when core nutritional needs are consistently met. In my case- magnesium level replenishment was a step in the process that there was no non tangible (i.e. brain rewiring, lifestyle change, morning of my own dark night) substitute for. All those boxes were checked, the level of transformation has reached me so deeply I actually changed my name to reflect how differently I felt, and yet the body still struggled until its intrinsic biological balance could begin to come into a healthier stasis vis a vis – in my case, addressing nutritional aspects of healing, in particular magnesium.
Environmental illness is often misdiagnosed as a psychological illness to the utter disadvantage and often damage to the individual and/or their support network. My family literally thought I was crazy when I had MCS disease and could smell chemicals from 200 yards away because wikipedia says it is psychosomatic and never mind the double blind peer reviewed research. The medical establishment claimed Multiple Sclerosis was psychological until sometime in the 60’s when they figured out it was neurological. OOPS- oh well about all the people who were cared for like their mind was playing tricks on them rather than their neurology. This society demeans the weak regardless of the cause, but to be considered psychologically weak is pretty low on the scale of that. Also an opportunity.
Yes a spiritual movement in us may be a defining factor of the vulnerability of the system to the illness – if the system says “yes” someplace to the disease (does it?) as a vehicle for change the spirit is invoking – however- there are known biological aspects to the types of illness you describe. I am sensitive to the risk of adding weight to the notion that chronically ill people are indulging themselves in some form of subconscious protest. If that is the case, so is everyone with every single disease, illness or injury on the planet- so it fails as any kind of a useful interpretation. It can easily slide into a flavor of blaming people for their illness which is so so so violent and so common. Sometimes you need stitches. Sometimes you need minerals. Sometimes you need faith, a self that can be at peace in its unique way. Sometimes you need all of the above. I don’t think of it as that illness is called in by the spirit as much as that when illness happens, it is an opening to transformation that we can welcome and pursue or deny and stifle. Kind of like that missing the bus is an opportunity to walk. How do i recognize and take the opportunity of what is?
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Will Stevensin says
The disharmony caused by the myth of separation is the underlying cause of these so-called “mental Illnesses” To call them mental is wrong, to call them illness is wrong. They may be the epitome of health, and of course mental still implies: “it is all in your head” ie. the self (which in Cartesian terms does not even include your body) has caused this by being out of synch with the dictates of the world-devouring machine. But the disharmony is not personal, and to react with stress to this harmony is most definitely healthier than blindly contributing to the cacophony of disharmony. As a Psychologist (just trying to establish some street-cred here) I just want to add that two states are available in response to chronic stress/chronic disharmony: Fight/flight (Anxiety when there is no available physical outlet such as running or fighting) mediated by the autonomic sympathetic nervous system; and shut down which includes numbing, dissociation, flacid lethargy; in the animal world it is seen as playing dead, “playing possum,” mediated by the dorsal vagal system. When there is no resolution of the stress, when the trigger remains, people will generally vaccilate between these two states: anxiety and depression. Generally the shut-down (numbness/dissociation, et al) is more pleasant than long term anxiety and flashes of panic (especially when there is no obvious threat, no recourse to take action). But there is a way out, beyond this endless pendular swing. And (no surprise at all) it is through activating the Social Engagement System (mediated by the ventral vagus nerve)—that is: through connection, belonging, community with others. Charles is right on about the interbeing as the way to evolve from the myth of separation: Utilizing the social engagement system so one doesn’t feel separate and apart is now a primary modality for helping people out of debilitating states of both anxiety and depression. We even call this ‘interactive psychobiological emotional regulation’ (we could just call it interbeing). Of course, this doesn’t solve the social ills around us, but it is one step, a contribution from the world of psychology and psychotherapy, to move us into the future of realizing interbeing. (BTW: this approach is called Polyvagal Therapy)
One more thing: Accepting/experiencing the grief of feeling separate is the way out of this—everything besides this (denial, anger, bargaining (and isn’t that what we are collectively doing instead of acknowledging and witnessing the harm done?), is just kicking the can down the road. And from that sane perspective, these ‘mental illnesses’—to be affected by the impact of a tragic, isolated, and disharmonious world—are truly the sane & healthy response. Enough of this and our mutual presence in the world will change, and harmony with/in the natural world can settle in again.
Kathryn Hardage says
Bravo. Thank you. I have definitely felt this. I am grateful to be at this point in my twenty-one year healing of child trauma. I love that you define it as preparation to mid-wife others.
This article touched me deeply. A few years ago I wrote a few lines about a very similar feeling that I had about what we call “mental illness” the way it is perceived in our world. I have never shared it with anyone but now feel inspired to share it:
I dont need a therapist to help me “integrate” into this sick society
I need to find a place where people are still connected to nature and their own hearts, and I won’t need to change a thing about myself, because the right kind of people will recognize me and I will recognize them and I will realise there was never anything “wrong” with me in the first place…
I don’t need a therapist to help me “analyze” my childhood traumas
I need people who know what it is like to be a child and to be mistreated and tortured, people who can feel my pain and truly know where I am coming from…not another “authority person” who is trying to explain my suffering and pain without even really knowing anything about it other than from textbooks…
I don’t need a therapist to try and analyze my depression
I already know where it is coming from
Give me back the trees, the butterflies, the wild breeze around my face
Let me roll around in the grass, let me pick flowers and be kissed by their intoxicating scent
Let me play on the soft, moist forest floor in the shade of the wise and old giants
Mother nature whispering her love song in my ear…
I am like a child that has been taken away from her home
And you think you can “help” me by making me read books that have been written by rusty old men behind desks, psychologists who have spent their lives in white coats
Without ever touching and loving the bark of a tree
The haunting cry of an eagle
The beauty of a sunset…
What can these people tell me
Why do they think they know more about me than I do myself
Why do they think they can “doctor away” the fact that the EARTH has been stolen from me
My best friends, the trees and the animals, have been murdered to built more and more houses and streets and factories…
The earth is crying out in pain, she can’t bear it any more…and I hear her crying…and I long to feel her embrace…
I am just dying along with her, and I am dying because I have been taken away from her…she no longer lives in this place devoid of life…
This is what I am missing, this is what is real…and the cry of my heart refuses to be muted by quick fixes and patch-ups.
Thanks for such a fantastic article that I’ve read ;Thanks so much