Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sacred Demise: A Book Review

Carolyn Baker's newly released book Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Collapse is the first book devoted entirely to the psychological and spiritual aspects of today eco-nomic challenges. I am eager to recommend it to all helping professionals and others wanting to deal with the difficult inner work involved in the transition that's taking place around us whether we are embracing it, fighting it, or denying it.
Author, adjunct professor in history and psychology and creator of the Speaking Truth to Power website, Baker draws on a wide variety of traditions and backgrounds in crafting her thoughts on this vital subject and includes many heartfelt insights she has gained from her personal inner journey into the troubled waters of our time, never flinching to delve into its hard truths and our role in the challenges ahead.
As a practitioner you may not agree with particular points in her book and you may find sections emotionally disturbing, even difficult to read. But the significance of this book is that Carolyn lays bare the issues we must confront in ourselves and help our clients to confront if we are to find the inner equanimity needed to address the future with the confidence, wisdom, creativity, and effective action that is demanded of us.

I see reading this book as a doorway to the inner reflection we each need to do and help our clients to do.

Each chapter actually concludes with a Reflection and a blank page for Notes. I found these to be not only personally valuable but also useful tools for sharing with clients.
Because I had the honor of writing the Forward to this book, instead of describing its contents in more detail, I invite you to read the Forward. Then I hope you will take the opportunity to read Sacred Demise. I will look forward to your thoughts and comments, both as someone who faces these issues yourself and as someone who will be on the front lines of helping others.
For those for whom it will be helpful, I have created 6-hours online Continuing Education (CEU) self-study course for this book with an accompanying Course Guide. It's available for an introductory price of $20 (plus the cost of the book, which can be purchased separately through
amazon or other sources either in print or as an e-book). Contact me if you would be interested in receiving these CEU's.
To a sane and sustainable future.

Sarah Edwards Read more!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eco-Anxiety: Are You Encountering the Negativity Challenge?

I've noticed a common challenge in talking with my spiritually-oriented friends, colleagues, and clients about the needs for addressing the psychological aspects the environmental, economic, and psychological aspects of climate change and resource depletion. They consider such topics to be negative thoughts they don't want to contribute to.
I was discussing this conundrum with my friend and colleague Carolyn Baker because her excellent book, Sacred Demise, for which I wrote the forward, is the first book that addresses the inner, spiritual aspects of these very real, live-changing threats we're facing. Following our conversation she wrote a most thought-provoking essay on this issue for distribution.
I would very much like to know your thoughts, both to the topic and to Carolyne's response. Are you experiencing this kind of response from in your spiritually-oriented friends, colleagues, and clients? How do you approach it?
Soon I look forward to doing a review of Carolyn's book here on the blog. It is an invaluable resource for those of us who are helping with the Inner Work of Transition to a Sustainable Future.

by Carolyn Baker, Wednesday, 06 May 2009

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.
~Carl Jung~

Recently a friend told me that she had been talking up my book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse and suggesting to friends who are aware of collapse that they read it. On several occasions the response was, "Well, I don't want to engage in ‘negative thinking'. I'd rather keep a positive attitude and stay hopeful in the face of what's going in on the world." When I heard this, I smiled inside because this perspective in particular prompted me to write the book. One of my intentions in doing so was to help heal the false assumption that looking honestly at the end of the world as we have known it is synonymous with wallowing in negativity.
First, let me begin by assuring the reader that I do not recommend staring down collapse 24-7. Initially, admitting the reality of collapse is frightening and disheartening. People at first tend to become overwhelmed with fear or hopelessness or both. At that point, we can do one of two things: We can back off and process the facts in bits and pieces, interspersing doing so with living our everyday lives, doing things we enjoy with people we love, and savoring everything in life that nourishes us. Or, we can immediately engage one or more defense mechanisms in order to assuage our fear and cognitive dissonance.
The defense mechanism most frequently employed is denial, and unfortunately, some forms of spirituality are particularly useful in fostering denial because inherent in them is the assumption that accepting the demise of industrial civilization will drag one down into permanent depression, anger, hopelessness, or despair. While it is true that when first acknowledging collapse, one might experience such feelings, this does not guarantee that one must choose to take up residence in dark feelings, redecorate, change one's address, and permanently reside there.
I wrote Sacred Demise from the perspective of exactly the opposite experience. Did I feel negative feelings when first learning about collapse and its implications? Of course. Do I still have moments when negative feelings return and cloud what was an-otherwise normal day? Absolutely. But for me, acknowledging and preparing for collapse has been a sea-change in every aspect of my life, which includes a full palette of emotional and spiritual colors and hues. It has indeed made me more fully human and alive.
Rather than dragging me down into depression and despair, my acceptance of what is, has liberated me both emotionally and spiritually. As I have released false hopes of "fixing" civilization cosmetically or creating a mass consciousness change that might engender mass movements, I have gained much more energy for my work and for preparation for the daunting days ahead. In other words, I have gained a visceral understanding of "crisis as opportunity"-a cliché which I bandied about earlier in my life but could not fully appreciate until I allowed myself to deeply understand collapse and its ramifications.
Last month, Oregon Peak Oil researcher and blogger, Jan Lundberg, put out a call to his readers to respond on three questions regarding collapse:
What we are acting toward? What main outcome might we be looking forward to?
What do we relish leaving behind, as collapse begins or as it will be intensified?
What do we not want to leave behind unresolved; or, what needs to be done before it's too late to accomplish it?
This week, Culture Change published the results of the survey which I strongly encourage everyone to read. Here are a few responses:

• I look forward to the world breaking up "into small colonies of the saved" (Robert Bly). I look forward to a simpler, less neurotic life for me and my children. I would like to think that my children, while their chances of survival may be lower, their chances of happiness will be higher.
• The central change I would like to see is abandonment of the addictive, frenzied, exploitative American way of life in favor of a tribal, cooperative, relaxed way of life that puts responsibility toward other species and the Earth, as well as other human beings, first.
• An authentic life that is centered around people and not things. Revival of things spiritual and not material.
• Learning how to live with each other and within the larger community of our bioregions and ecosystems in a way that is intimate, honest, humble, and humanly and ecologically sustainable. That includes restoring viable community life, economic and ecological relationships and systems - living systems.

While none of us knows exactly how the collapse of civilization [as we know it]will unfold and while it is a process -- sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant -- whose beginning, middle, and end are and will be difficult to discern, the responses to Lundberg's questions are encouraging. First, they let me know that I'm not alone and that there are many more individuals than I could have imagined who are looking at collapse with the same optimism -and fear- that I feel when I contemplate it. Moreover, what I hear in these responses is not "negativity" but a deep longing for the possibility of living lives in harmony with all of the earth community and thereby experiencing the fullness of our humanity.
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Sigmund Freud cultivated a very dark perception of humanity as he assessed the baser instincts largely repressed in the human unconscious. His pupil who became the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, acknowledged the dark side of humanity which drove Freud to utter despair but unlike Freud, Jung came to believe that the dark side was a necessary ally in transforming human consciousness.
Jung spent decades studying myriad spiritual teachers, mythologies, and archetypes of the unconscious, and championed the sacred in nature and in the human psyche; however, Jung insisted that, "We must beware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while so-called evil can resolutely be shunned. Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole."
In other words, according to Jung, what we call "good" and "evil" need each other and in our binary thinking are opposite poles which in reality comprise the whole of the human experience; one needs the other for completion, and particularly for the transformation of consciousness. This is why Jung adamantly declared that "Mental illness is the avoidance of suffering." He was not referring to meaningless anguish but suffering which we endeavor to make sense of so that our genuine human purpose may be revealed to us.
In Sacred Demise, I repeatedly return to the question: Who do we want to be in the face of collapse? My friend Joanna Gabriel in a wonderful 2007 interview with Peak Moment TV beautifully articulates the question "Who Am I In A Post-Petroleum World". We both concur that these are the ultimate questions that collapse is inviting us to address in our individual lives and in our communities. I believe that it is futile to attempt to do so unless we are willing to struggle with all of the human emotions that emerge as we choose to stop avoiding the issue of collapse and with the support of trusted others, look at it honestly, welcoming it as a wise teacher and ally.
Sacred Demise painstakingly guides the reader in opening to the process of initiation that collapse is foisting upon us. The ancients and all traditional peoples know that without initiations, humans will not develop into mature, whole beings. In such cultures, it would be almost unheard of for anyone to speak of "wanting to avoid negativity" because all experiences and feelings are honored as necessary aspects of the human condition, without which humans cannot become fully conscious.
Among other things, collapse is asking us to grow up, to become initiated elders and thereby guide humanity in a revolutionary new direction. Near the end of Sacred Demise, I include an excerpt from a comment a reader of my website, Truth to Power, emailed me last year. He wrote:

I, for one, would find much more meaning from
putting food on the table that is truly needed and
sustaining rather than taken for granted. Food
that I raised or killed myself, or we ourselves,
or my neighbor did, and I bartered with him
for it. Much more so than the meaning Empire
tells me what I am supposed to get from sitting
here in my cubicle (my penultimate day today!)
rearranging little electronic blips in exchange for
money, which I am then supposed to exchange
not only for my sustenance, but also for all sorts
of diversions, to make me forget how meaningless
it all is.
I, for one, will find consolation in knowing
my neighbors - and in knowing that they are
there for me as I am for them, rather than living
amidst strangers, as most all of us do now. I will
find consolation in knowing that my ecological
footprint does not extend beyond my gaze.
That the things I consume do not cause death
and destruction beyond my ability to see and
internalize, rather than out of sight and mind as
now, and so much larger than any being could
ever have a ‘right' to.
I, for one, will find purpose in working closely
and cooperatively and communally with those
around me to provide our own sustenance,
comforts such as they may be, and entertainments
as time allows.
I have no illusions that life post-collapse will be
idyllic, nor that the transition will be anything
but ugly. But neither shall I miss that which
is dying - the dizzying complexity of our oil-drenched
lifestyles, a thousand channels of
nothing worth watching, mega-malls, motor
sports (how many kinds of insane are those!?!),
celebrities, glitter, growth, more, faster, bigger,
keep up with the Joneses but ignore the
sweatshops and the dying ecosystems, consume,
medicate, live large... then die. Where is one to
find a sense of purpose in all of that?
Whether one considers oneself "spiritual", atheist, agnostic, religious, or eternally skeptical, the task of accepting collapse and seizing the myriad opportunities it presents, is sacred work. As for me, nothing in my life has proven more positive or powerful.

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is the author of Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse (2009 IUniverse). She manages the Truth to Power website at and has also authored U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You.
You can order Sacred Demise here. Read book foreword at Read more!