Henry David Thoreau, were he alive today, would be holed up inside his little cabin at Walden Pond, pulling his wool blankets over his head in a desperate attempt to shut out the world. Rather than writing one of the greatest books in the history of American literature, he instead would’ve used his quill pen to write “LEAVE ME ALONE” in large, capital letters and nailed the note to his door. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, Walt Whitman, upon discovering Yosemite, would likely have walked off the edge of Half Dome were it 2014 rather than 1868.
The times in which we live are more dire than any 19th Century transcendentalist could ever have imagined. Over the next 150 or so years, the world’s population growth would expand to approximately seven times the size it was during that era. The distribution of wealth would become somewhat reasonable for a very short period of time a hundred or so years later, only to then become totally outrageous after that period was up. Large corporations would go from being influential on politicians to creating their own political system. And the natural environment, which these authors revered as the ultimate expression of creation itself, would be in deep shit.
For those of us who have experienced the serene and potent energy that is always present in the parts of the world that don’t get regularly trampled by humans, we can probably relate to their anxiety. When I juxtapose the feeling I remember from canoeing on a pond in Maine growing up against the feeling I have when I sit in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic in LA, sucking the fumes from a zillion tailpipes, I can’t help but wonder how we are going to get ourselves out of this mess. But the fact remains that the world will go on, and despite the inevitable ecological disasters that will wipe some of us out, so will we.
It could be said that we, as a culture, are going through a kind of collective hell. However, it is my experience that hell is largely in the eye of the beholder. There is the challenge of adapting to an unknown world (living in LA, I wonder every day whether I will be hearing news that I have to immediately evacuate due to Fukushima), and there is what we choose to do with that challenge. The real hell comes not from the situation itself, but our reaction to the situation. When feelings come up that we have never had before, the natural reaction most of us have is to go into a fight or flight mode. We either deny what we are feeling, or we fight the feeling. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to let the feeling move through us without denying it or reacting to it. The real hell is when we get paralyzed from our own feelings, whether it be from the state of the world, the state of our job, the state of our relationships or anything. Anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and a host of other symptoms can result from the inability to process feelings. And when people around us have the same problems, it can easily become the new “normal.”
The task at hand is to learn how to surrender to previously unknown pressures. Every time something is birthed in nature, it happens as the result of extreme pressure. When you stuck your little head out of the birth canal as a newborn infant, it was only after experiencing an immense amount of pressure. Human behavior seems to operate in a very similar fashion. Learning to trust nature means learning to trust the evolution of humankind, because while it seems cut off from nature, it actually isn’t. Nothing can be cut off from nature. Is it frustrating? Sure. Is it depressing? Certainly can be. But it is still nature. Real trust, the kind that comes with actual awareness and not just blind faith, is a skill that takes ongoing practice.
Now, here’s the good news. As people develop the skills to be able to function effectively within the confines of this new pressure, they naturally begin to see opportunities which were previously unavailable. The definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who organizes, operates and assumes the risk for a business venture.” I would add to that definition that a smart entrepreneur is one who also sees a need that is not currently being met and seizes the opportunity to fill that void. We are currently living in a time of manufactured necessity. In other words, new products and services are being created every day which don’t actually make our lives any better at all. Clever marketing might make us think we need some of this crap, but we don’t. A perfect storm is happening – a swirling combination of ecological disasters, income inequality, social inequality and global information sharing that is creating exactly the type of pressure that is needed for a new awareness to emerge, and with it, new goods and services which are absolutely necessary and aligned with creating meaningful change.
Those who have not felt the intense pressure of the present moment, who are either oblivious to it or too numb to feel it, will be the followers in the future. Those who have surrendered to the pressure, maintained their trust in humanity, and honestly wish to help others will be the new leaders.