Things Fall Apart: Why We Think Everything’s Getting Worse

Most Americans, year after year, continue to think that the country is on the wrong track. The older you are (i.e, the more experienced you are, and the more of history you’ve seen), the more likely you are to think everything is falling apart. And it’s not just in America: worldwide, people tend to think things are getting worse. And it’s undeniable that the world is facing horrible problems: climate change, pollution, terrorism, income inequality, racism, sexism, etc., etc., etc.

Maybe you’ve noticed the same thing in your own life. I don’t mean to be depressing here… but how many times have you failed to change a habit, or break an addiction? How many of your jobs have fallen through? How many times have you had to move away from your home? How many pets have you lost? How many of your friendships and relationships have failed, or faded away in distance or time? How many people you’ve loved are gone forever?

Almost all of us have tragic answers to those questions. The things we love in our lives always end; the patterns we love endlessly unravel.

Detail from "Consternation", by Scott Grady, 1977. Thanks to Ali for this image.

Detail from “Consternation”, by Scott Grady, 1977. Thanks to Ali for this image.

In nature, things unravel, too. But there, something else is always raveling up to take its place. Trees die, but their tall standing snags — monuments to themselves — are colonized by armies of insects, fungi, and other critters, which in turn become feasts for woodpeckers and other animals. And when the snags finally fall, they become nurse logs for the next generation of trees, nourishing a richer, more diverse forest.

A tree’s death is a catastrophe, but it’s also what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe: a sort of deus ex machina, except that instead of a god swooping in from on high at the last minute to save everything, it’s a sudden unexpected change in fortune that’s consistent with the established framework of the milieu. It’s a miraculous redemption that arises inevitably from the world itself.

Oftentimes, a eucatastrophe is the result of the efforts of many, many individuals (humans, bugs, plants… doesn’t matter), each working for their own benefit or the benefit of their local community. Individually, each effort is barely noticeable, but when they’re added up, profound changes take place. Since these small efforts are self-directed, it can be extremely difficult to see what the final aggregate result will be, and whether it will, in the end, be good or bad.

Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. – Elrond, in the Fellowship of the Ring

So perhaps things look like they’re unraveling simply because we don’t have the complete picture. We as a species are young, and our vision is limited. We sometimes glimpse things that might happen, but for the most part, we only see the present and the past. It’s no wonder that most of what we see seems to be dying or dead.

The core of the problem, really, is that we can so rarely see patterns before they emerge. And so the world seems to be falling into disorder, and our lives seem to be full of endings, with precious few new beginnings.

It is an illusion, though. A new order is rising up, but we can’t see it. This is why eucatastrophes are surprising.

Detail from "Consternation", by Scott Grady, 1977. Thanks to Ali for this image.

Detail from “Consternation”, by Scott Grady, 1977. Thanks to Ali for this image.

Oftentimes we can see the re-raveling only in hindsight. Human history is littered with dire disasters and intractable problems: the ‘population bomb’, the end of oil, war, the nuclear holocaust, monarchy, illiteracy, slavery… But it’s an undeniable fact that most of these problems have gotten better over the last few hundred years. Not solved — not by a long shot; even one person enslaved is a terrible tragedy. But better. Most problems, like human rights violations and non-renewable energy, have been improved through long years of thankless toil. Many others, like slavery in the US, cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Some, like the falling rates of crime and warfare worldwide, have just been slowly eroding away, though no one really knows why. And a few, like the hegemonic Soviet Union, have ended in a completely unexpected eucatastrophe.

This happens in one’s own life as well. I’ve left behind friends in six different cities, lost three jobs, lost a marriage… Many of these changes left me wondering whether everything I’d worked and struggled for was gone forever. But of course, I made friends in the seventh city, scored that fourth job, and found a true soul partner. After 40+ years of life I’m finally starting to glimpse the larger tapestry sometimes. There are still problems and tragedies I struggle with, but someday — sooner, perhaps, than I can see — they will pass, too.

Seeing the Raveling

How can we get better at seeing patterns before they’re fully formed?

First, practice. Look for the raveling. Too often we focus only on what is going wrong, or what we fear will go wrong. This is instinctive. As embodied beings, it’s natural to be wary, to watch for danger. But take time to look for what is going right, or what might go right, and focus on that as well. The old saying is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst; and both parts of that are important.

Also, study history. Look at how eucatastrophes happened. Most people were surprised when the Soviet Union collapsed, when monarchies ended, and so on — but the writing was on the wall for decades. What writing is on the wall now?

Trust your gut. Your conscious mind has access to only a small part of your complete consciousness. Your subconscious is always looking for patterns, and usually sees the big changes coming. Meditation, and talking to guides, can help.

And finally, have some faith. One of the things I struggle with personally, as a Druid, is what Alison calls the ‘Problem of Justice’. Just as Christians wonder why God permits evil in the world, we who follow a nature-based spirituality wonder what is natural and what is unnatural, what is right and wrong, what is evil and what is good. When you see an oil spill or a huge parking lot and you feel a visceral revulsion or sorrow, your body is telling you that it is unnatural, wrong, evil — especially when compared with a forest or pristine river. But obviously humans are part of the natural world, and what we do is natural; so in a sense, an oil spill or parking lot is natural too. So why are we always tearing things down, causing mass extinctions, and fouling the waters? How can these things be “natural”, how can they be “good”?

And it’s not just humanity. When beavers flood a forest, felling and drowning dozens of trees, or when wolves disembowel an encroaching coyote and defecate around its body as a warning to the others, we have the same problem:

Many earth-centered spiritualities look to the relationships, patterns and laws of nature for insight into the ways we might live a just and ethical life — yet, within nature are myriad examples of suffering, destruction, violence, injustice, even cruelty and maliciousness… How should we respond to them? — Alison Leigh Lilly

The resolution of these paradoxes (both the Druid paradox and the Christian one) may, in part, lie in our limited human understanding. Maybe we just can’t yet see how the evils of the world will be woven into the larger pattern of beauty. In nature, always, there is a subtle, organic order at work. Problems turn out to be blessings; tragedies plant the seeds of triumphs. Even in truly awful situations — such as a forest fire — there is a hidden raveling. Underbrush is cleared out, soil is renewed, seeds are germinated, diversity is increased, and diseases are cleared away. Forests periodically burn as naturally as the cycle of the seasons. Maybe what we see today as injustice is part of a great invisible cycle.

It can be hard to have faith, to believe in rebirth, when all you can see is death. But something wonderful is being born, right now. Study, sit in silence, and wait, and you will see it.

Hummingbird on a snowy branch

Meditation: Animist Consecration

Last night my awesome wife Ali and I joined in a set of consecration ceremonies at our Unitarian Universalist church. Along with the Reverend’s UU blessing and our friend Chris’s Wiccan consecration, we demonstrated a Druid / Animist method of connecting with an object.

I say “connecting with” an object instead of “consecrating” because in our tradition, all things are sacred. We cannot imbue an object with holiness. It is already holy. What we can do is recognize the sacredness of the object, and enter into relationship with it (or deepen our existing relationship). We do this by sitting with the object, touching it, and listening for its voice in the Song of the World.

I wrote a meditation to guide this process, and it seemed to go well, so here it is in full:

Animist Consecration Meditation

Sit and relax. Take a deep breath… and release. As you breathe out, let all your tension melt away. Relax your shoulders, relax your neck, relax your eyes. Take another deep breath… and release. Imagine that a wave of warm golden light is slowly rising in your body, starting in your feet, rising up through your legs, up into your torso. The warm golden light fills your body, down your arms and into your fingers, up to the top of your head… Let your body sink, growing heavier. Your arms and legs have become heavy and settle comfortably.

Now turn your attention gently to the object in your hands. Feel its weight there. Imagine that, like your body, it is becoming heavier. Feeling its weight and heft pressing in your hands helps you relax further. … Feel its texture. Is it hard? Soft? Smooth? How does it respond when you apply gentle pressure? … Feel the temperature of the object in your hands. Perhaps it has responded to the warmth of your body, becoming warmer as you’ve been holding it.

Think about history of the object. Where did it come from? How did it come into this room? How did it come into your possession? Do you know who else has held this object, if anyone else ever has? Was it crafted by a person, or by a machine, or is it completely natural? How long ago was it made? Where did the materials of the object come from? From an animal? A plant? If so, what do you know about those living beings, and the lives they led? Did they live nearby, experiencing the same summers and winters and rains as ourselves? Or did they live far away, in a distant land, under different stars? Has it been under the sea? Did it come from the earth, crafted from stone or crystal, formed millions of years ago?

Imagine what it must have been like to experience the history of this object — from the time of its making down to the present day. Think about what it must be like to be the object, now, today, surrounded by us in this warm and sacred space, being held and warmed by your hands.

Feel the warmth of the object again. The object has responded to the heat in your hands. The heat in the object is nothing more nor less than vibration; its atoms and molecules have begun to vibrate along with the atoms and molecules of your hand. If your ears were sensitive enough, you would be able to hear the vibration of the object in the air. Hold it tightly and feel the warmth. If it were making an audible sound, what would it be? Would it be high-pitched, or low? Would it be a single constant tone, or a chord of notes? A monotone, or a tune? …

Hear that sound in your mind. Focus on it.

Now, in a moment, when you are ready and comfortable, respond to the song of the object, in whatever way feels right. Maybe you want to hum along with it, or provide a bass or counterpoint. Maybe what is called from you is a chant, or a whisper. Sit with your object, listen to it, and respond. Sing the song of the world with your object.

2015-02-25 20.23.00-1






Using Meditation and the Tarot to Parent Consciously

Today I’m delighted to welcome a guest author: Kara-Leah Grant, yoga publisher, editor, writer, speaker, teacher, and creator of The Yoga Lunchbox. Enjoy!

New Year’s Eve packed a powerful punch for me this year – I broke up with my partner of three and half years two days earlier.

It was two weeks before our son’s first birthday.

So it’s a brand new challenge for me, this single-mothering gig.

[Continue Reading…]

Reconciling Dreams and Reality IV: the Struggle for Interpretation

This post is taken from my journal of the fifth and sixth days of my ten-day fast and meditation to gain clarity on my career path.

Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

Dreams. I had three dreams. First, I was riding with some other people on donkeys through an autumn forest, looking for a monastery of some sort. Second, there was a long, involved dream about being stuck in an airport; there were video games and movies of low quality, and lots of smoking and drinking, with an overall general sense of despair. At one point during the dream, I was almost roped back into working in the defense industry. At one point I was almost grabbed back into the military. Third, and much more pleasantly, I was sailing through a strait of tall cliffs on a sunny afternoon; and I think there was something to do with 16th century pirate warfare…  Probably a dream inspired by the Princess Bride, which we’re reading now.

DSC02621On waking, I had a strong feeling that I should look for the connection between the Bear guide and the Pool of the Moon.

I felt pretty grounded and connected today. We had a very late lunch, and I was pretty hungry, so I allowed myself to have some pita in addition to hummus at our 2:30pm “lunch”. That was a cheat on the raw vegan fast, but otherwise things went well today overall. I even got some more writing done on the Great Bear blog post. But I also found myself thinking more about writing a book, and stumbled on some online resources about selling and marketing books.

[Continue Reading…]

Reconciling Dreams and Reality III: The Dragon and the Jewels

This post is taken from my journal of the third and fourth days of my ten-day fast and meditation to gain clarity on my career path.

Wednesday, Septemper. 8, 2010

Dreams.Along with my eldest daughter’s Waldorf teacher, I am co-teaching a bunch of… 4th graders? In the dream, which appeared to be set a few years in the future, it has become increasingly difficult to teach children, and the world is changing so quickly; so she is using multimedia now, even though that is not the Waldorf way. We were watching movies about the earth’s dissolution, but every movie included bits about what people were doing to help out.

[Continue Reading…]

Reconciling Dreams and Reality II: The Pool of the Moon

This post is taken from my journal of the second day of my ten-day fast and meditation to gain clarity on my career path.

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010

Today I was feeling a little odd, or a little off, from the raw vegan fast. I didn’t have many cravings, but was often pretty hungry and felt a bit unbalanced, light … ungrounded. I had some tea, and that helped a lot.

Anyway: today we had a little breakfast at home, and then went to the grocery store. Afterwards we went to the café and wore ourselves out with work, then came home, had a light dinner, and went for a walk. Lots of our talk today was about planning our trip down south, as well as the insanity of Beck’s recent “restoring honor” rally.

Dreams and Meditations

dreammasterMy dream last night was something about going to an underground bunker, decorated in a Victorian or steampunk style, like the hideaway of Captain Nemo. I was traveling with a bunch of weird social outcasts — mutants and half-animals and the like. There was a long dream sequence of going through the wilderness — looking rather like a rocky moorland — with our guide, and finally reaching an elaborately hidden entrance to Nemo’s headquarters.

Interestingly, this was the second night in a row I dreamed of half-beings, mixed-up beings. Hmmm…

[Continue Reading…]

Reconciling Dreams and Reality I: Balancing the Sun and Moon

In September of 2010, shortly after making contact with the Bear guide, I was struggling to reconcile my career with my heart. This is a struggle a lot of people have, but my situation was much easier than most: I have an excellent job that I like a lot. In fact, perhaps you’re wondering how I could possibly dare to want more, when so many people on Earth suffer from such want and dissatisfaction. Well, I answered that question earlier this year: basically it comes down to the fact that none of us really deserve anything we have, good or bad, and it is simply unhelpful and false for us to think of each other as being in competition. After all, if I seek more fulfillment in my work, that in no way prevents other people from finding fulfillment in theirs.

[Continue Reading…]

Feather, Stone, and Light: Meditation Interlude

At first there are only confused images.  I try to return to familiar places:  the Temple, the Forest of Branching Paths, the Sun Prairie…  But they slip away without coming into focus.  I blink, look at the flame again, allow my frustration to pass.  I try to focus on visualizing a single tree, a pool of water with light rippling, a mossy stone…  Nothing.  I can’t hold on to anything.  Again, I breathe, look at the flame, and allow the frustration to pass.  Sometimes it seems like 90% of all meditative practice is learning to forgive yourself for not meditating…  I try again.

Oh yes!  There it is.

[Continue Reading…]

Become Death

A few weeks ago I had a meditation unlike any other I’d had before.

sellingsalvationiiIn the visualization, I was walking out along the high ridge that looks out over the sea. It was very early in the morning — the sun had not yet come up, but the sky was ruddy and growing lighter every moment. Suddenly, at the edge of the ridge I saw a strange black figure, wearing a robe and hood, and carrying… a scythe.

[Continue Reading…]

Downloadable Meditations for Relaxation and Peace

It’s been over six months in the making, but I finally finished it: a brand-new set of eight downloadable guided meditations, which can be purchased separately or as part of a big Relaxation Package along with a 20-page Guide to Relaxation and Peace.  In keeping with my philosophy of donation-based offerings, all meditations are available for a donation of any amount.  So that you’ll know exactly what you’re getting, I’m providing transcripts of all the meditations in a free PDF.

I had a great time making this package, and there’s no question in my mind that these are the best meditations I’ve ever put together. If you enjoyed the Meet a Guide meditation, you should definitely consider checking these out, since they’re designed to provide gentle visualization practice and a deeper connection with Spirit along with deep peace.

Let me know what you think!
hearsongofworld

Merry Meetings: Guest Post on the Meet a Guide Meditation

Peter O’Gamhna first contacted me a few months ago, to share his experiences with the free guided meditation “Meet a Guide”. He found himself talking to an entity that identified himself as Apollo… but who seemed a bit “distant” and definitely did not take on Apollo’s classic appearance! Since then Peter’s journey with meditation has been a remarkable one, and I encouraged him to write it up so that we could share it with you here. Meditation isn’t for everyone, but for myself and many others, it’s been an amazing path!

Hello,

ire37My name is Peter O’Gamhna. Jeff has given me the wonderful chance to write a guest post for his highly successful blog, one which I have eagerly accepted. I’m going to be discussing visualisation meditations, sharing my experiences and thoughts with you the reader — it is my hope that in doing so I might inspire a few of you to give it a try yourself, or simply satisfy your curiosity about the matter.

[Continue Reading…]

Meet a Guide: Free Guided Meditation

Meet a Guide: Free Guided Meditation.
The meditation is in mp3 format, is 22 MB, and lasts 18.5 minutes.

For me, meditation provides the simplest, richest, and most effective window into whatever issues are most urgent and troubling in my life. It doesn’t matter what I’m struggling with — meditation almost always helps. I’ve used meditation for:

My goodness! I wasn’t expecting the list to be so long when I started making it.

[Continue Reading…]

Meditation: At the Bottom of the Faerie Pool

The past couple of days I’ve been struggling with a quick, sharp stomach bug. It’s nearly gone now, but it was rough: I lost ten pounds in less than a week. Yesterday evening, I was over the worst of it, and soaking in the tub; and I slipped into the following dream/meditation:

The Pool

ire15I was walking through tall grass in warm sunlight — golden grass, waist-height. Suddenly I came upon a pond that had been hidden by the grass, perhaps a dozen yards across; it was deep and green and somehow radiated coolness. On the other side of the pool was a forest, also deep and green, and I caught glimpses of fairies darting here and there among the trees.

[Continue Reading…]

Meditation on Money: Becoming the Wolf at the Door

My wife and I are finally having to face up to the fact that we really haven’t done such a great job of handling our money over the last 10 years.

comingbackWhen we started out, we were just poor graduate students. We were fortunate in that we didn’t have much debt, but on the other hand, our incomes weren’t anything to brag of either. After we left school, and entered the “real” world, our income rose quickly, but unfortunately, for one reason and another, our debt rose as well. Now our income is well above the national average, but the six of us live in a cramped little apartment because of our debt.

Why did this happen? There are two ways to answer the question. From a material-world, proximate-cause standpoint, we made some uninformed decisions and some bad bets. Specifically, we bought a house that was too expensive for us, spent too much money trying to fix it up, took too long to sell it, and lost money on the sale. But, to be honest, I don’t think that’s the whole story. For a long time now, we’ve had a very good income, but simply have not been able to make ends meet. To me, this indicates a deeper problem with money, a subconscious problem that manifests as an inability to spend or save appropriately.

Last week I did a meditation to try to find what the root of the problem was, and see if I could dig it out.

[Continue Reading…]

Archetypes: Subconscious, Spirits, Guides, or Gods?

Recently I’ve begun to wonder whether the cast of characters I regularly meet my meditations are just aspects of my subconscious, or something more.

[Continue Reading…]