Like a lot of people, I've been deeply affected by what's been happening in the Amazon in 2019.
Deforestation has reached double the rate of last year, as the red line of logging and fires, many of them set deliberately to clear land for soybeans and cattle, encroaches deeper and deeper into the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
Armed land-grabbers are dislocating Indigenous people and killing those who resist. Even legally protected lands are getting logged and destroyed. It's just horrifying. And I feel, sometimes, these waves of helplessness, like watching a car wreck in slow motion. The grief is so strong – what do I do with it?
The trap of hate
I’ve noticed a trap, a diversion of this emotional energy that pretends to direct it toward change, but actually neuters it. The bait of the trap is the invitation, "Take that energy and hate somebody with it. Blame somebody with it. Divert it into rage."
The story of the bad guy channels healthy anger into hate, a detour that makes one less capable, less powerful. and less active. The solution that hate invites is to fight somebody, to find an enemy and engage in a war with them, assuming that winning the war solves the problem. So, we pin the blame on Bolsonaro, or the illegal loggers, or the ranchers, or agribusiness, or the consumers... and ultimately on ourselves.
Surely on one level, these people are to blame. But what conditions gave rise to them? If we focus on the proximate perpetrators, we risk falling into the general cultural pattern of attacking the symptom while ignoring the cause.
Hate and blame divert attention away from the set of conditions that actually generate the problem: the conditions that gave rise to a Bolsonaro; the conditions that drive the burning of land. These include economic conditions, for example neoliberal austerity and, in the guise of “free trade,” the global debt regime that forces countries all over the world to liquidate their natural resources to generate foreign exchange to make their debt payments. The consequent poverty, inequality, and social breakdown fuels popular anger, which right-wing demagogues expertly channel into nationalism and other isms, ultimately worsening the very conditions that brought them to power. Those who support Bolsonaro (or Trump, for that matter) are not bad people. To see them as such is to enter a delusion – the same delusion that afflicts the supporters themselves, who blame their woes on a set of bad people too.
Dehumanization is also part of the conditions that allow the destruction of the Amazon, which requires the degrading of its indigenous inhabitants. Such degradation extends to the rainforest itself. To make someone less than fully human, through racism, sexism, or by assigning them the status of a “deplorable,” is the same way of thinking that holds Earth as not alive and not conscious and not sacred, but as merely a thing or a collection of resources. That belief system greases the wheels of the forest-chopping, waste-dumping, world-destroying machine by holding at bay our pain and grief over what is lost. This psychic or ideological climate, together with the economic and political climate, set the stage for those we blame to play their role.
If those conditions don't change, then even if we take down Bolsonaro, there will be another Bolsonaro. There will be other people responding to this systemic pressure to find something to convert into money (and why not the Earth, when it's just a thing?)
When we understand the deep conditions, we're not limited to waging a fight. That is a sure recipe for despair, because a war against the military-industrial-agricultural-pharmaceutical-NGO-educational-prison-industrial complex is hopeless. It is much better at war than we are. It has the power. It has the guns. It has the money. It has the surveillance technology. We're not going to win that war.
Here’s a better plan: Rather than winning a war, let’s change the conditions. Everybody can be part of that, because when the conditions are everything, then any act of healing will ultimately affect the Amazon rainforest too.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t do something directly about the Amazon. We can support the many organizations that support indigenous resistors and Brazilian environmental activists. Here are a few endorsed for their integrity and effectiveness by people I trust, some working in the field:
COIAB (Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon)
IPAM (Amazon Environmental Research Institute)
Additionally, let’s consider the merits of a boycott of Brazilian products, especially beef. And let us be careful, because a boycott will be counterproductive if it comes from an attitude of hate, punishment, and “othering.” Isn’t that the mentality that has gotten us here? Hate, and the dehumanization that comes with it, obliterates nuance and paves over complexity. Who will be harmed by a boycott? What is it like to be one of the millions of poor farmers who support Bolsonaro? The world is complex. If we are honest with ourselves, often we don’t know what to do. And that honesty is a good starting point. Hate and blame short-circuits the not-knowing, offering instead a false knowing and easy action that doesn’t touch the root of the problem and might make it worse.
Maybe you have an opportunity to directly protect the Amazon, a clear path of action. For many, it is hard to find something beyond perhaps giving some money, signing a petition, and going on with life-as-usual. Hence the feelings of helplessness. Here is where recognizing the deeper “set of conditions” comes in. Since the conditions that drive deforestation, and indeed ecocide everywhere, aren’t happening only in Brazil, any act of care, ecological healing, or social healing is part of the same project: the healing of this Earth.
Prayer in action
Imagine you're on your sick bed in extreme suffering, wondering whether it is worth the effort to heal. No one is visiting you. The doctors and nurses are insulting you and degrading you. Instead of medicine they give you poison. Can you heal like that? Not likely. The will to live requires food: the experience of being loved, needed, and valued.
Earth is on a sick bed, and she needs what any of us would need. She needs care instead of poison, and she needs to know she is wanted. Everything you do that affirms that you want a living Earth, not a dead Earth, everything that is in service to life, every act that comes from love of a place, a person, a community, all of that is a prayer and a message to Gaia saying "We love you. We want you. We need you. You are not alone."
Prayer in action is more powerful than words alone, because that which hears our prayer knows then that we are serious, that we mean what we say. Your prayers for the Amazon will be amplified five hundred fold when you channel them through the magnifying resonance chamber of an act of care that is out of the ordinary. Find something outside your ordinary routine, that represents a shift, a sacrifice of one thing and an addition of something else. Maybe a sacrifice of a screen-viewing habit and an addition of a garden. Alter your life and a subtle signal emanates out into the world, asking it to shift into alignment with your new choice.
None of us are helpless. We may feel helpless, to the extent we are beholden to an ideology that says that some acts matter and others do not. But when we know that a holy being (God, spirits, the Earth herself... you don’t have to pick just one!) sees everything we do, and registers that act as a prayer summoning the future aligned to it, we know we are not helpless. Everything matters and everyone matters. Despair is possible only in the denial of that.
Note well: it is precisely the denial of that, the denial that everyone and everything matters, that has allowed the ruin of people, place, water, and forest around the world.
Well, that’s a nice philosophy, but how are these remote actions actually going to help the dire situation on the ground in Brazil? I don't know, but I trust the principal of morphic resonance that says "A change that happens anywhere creates a field of change so that the same change begins happening everywhere."
The change that I'm talking about is a change of heart. It's a change of perception. It's a change in our story-of-the-world that orients us toward what to do, who we are and why we’re here. Imagine the power of the morphogenetic field of a change of heart, and a new story spreading globally. What would Brazil be like then?
That's my plan. I don't know how specifically it's going to change the situation in Brazil, but I do know that I'm learning to trust this causal principle of morphic resonance. I'm learning to trust the innate knowledge that every act has cosmic significance, that no act is wasted.
Are we ready to live by that? It is such a different mindset than the one that generates despair and destroys this Earth, so different from the perspective of the separate self in a world of other, interacting by force to make change happen in a mechanical, dead universe, where nothing I do could possibly be enough.
What if the universe doesn't work like that? What if everything is interconnected? What if self and other weave each other, and there's an intimate connection between what happens inside and what happens outside?
What if we are part of a living universe?
If we are, then despair is illogical. That doesn't mean we magically all of a sudden have a plan to stop deforestation in the Amazon, but we can follow a plan beyond our conceiving as each step is offered us. That seeing is a heart function. When the mind does not know how to get from Point A to Point B, at least we can recognize the next step toward a destination that the heart knows exists. It's irrational, because the mind says, "How could we ever get there? Look at all of the obstacles! Look at the powers arrayed against us! It’s impractical, naïve, unrealistic." And that is simply because the mind (if you grew up in modern society) has been immersed in a logic of separation.
Not that the mind is useless, it just needs to be realigned to the logic of interconnection, interbeing, morphic resonance. Then, mind and heart can join as allies.
The heart’s compass
What I’m saying is not a spiritual bypass from what's happening in Brazil. It's not a substitute for action. It is a principle, an orientation, underneath any action that we might take. How does it land on you, this logic of morphic resonance, of every act a prayer, of a living, loving planet? Does it make you more passive, to think in this way, or less? Does it paralyze you? Or does it embolden you?
Here is how to recognize whether a given choice will help the Amazon. In your mind’s eye, go to a place outside of time where you encounter one of the casualties of deforestation. Here is an environmental activist being murdered. Here is a starving jaguar whose habitat is gone. Here is a massive tree riding the logging truck to the paper mill. Pick one. This being looks you in the eye and says, “What were you doing, my friend, as I was being destroyed?” If you can meet their gaze as you say, “I was taking care of a sick baby,” or, “I was giving lunches to homeless people,” or “I was protecting the orcas,” or “I was converting a dead, poisoned field to a permaculture food forest,” then the soul of that being will be satisfied with your answer, and so will you, just as much as if you’d blocked logging bulldozers with your body. That’s because service to any life is service to all life.
What can keep one anchored in the consciousness of service to life? For me it is two things. First, it is a community of others who share this recognition that we are here to render such service. Second, it is the grief and pain I feel at the loss of life and beauty. That is another reason not to take the bait of hate: it is an escape vent for the grief.
It’s not that hate or blame are wrong. It is that they exert a discordant magnetism that interferes with the heart’s compass needle, pointing it towards perpetrators who are actually symptoms. Don't get caught up in that. And don't get caught up in the despair. Those are all lies that short-circuit our full creative power.
Here is a set of mantras I am using to keep my compass needle pointing toward a healed world. I share them in hopes that one or more of them will ring true. Even if that ring is a tiny bell amidst a cacophony of cynicism, that is enough.
- I am life, here to serve life.
- I know how to serve life.
- I trust what is mine to do.
- I know I will have the courage to take each step as it comes.
- What I do will be enough, as I submit to the coordination of a larger intelligence that speaks to me through my heart.
- I will be put where I’m needed, to best join the all-healing.
- Holy beings are watching me and I am never alone.
- A vast intelligence weaves all things, and it is here right now.
I am no better at holding these than anyone else. I depend on you, because the more people who ring each of these bells, the stronger their morphic resonance. Great thanks to all who ring them. Great thanks to all who act from them in a living prayer. Great thanks to each of you who takes that step out of the ordinary, that I may do the same.