“I don’t think an authentic stand comes from your head. I think an authentic stand comes from your heart.” Van Jones
A couple of weeks ago, I flew with friends to Vegas for a long weekend. It was fun, but while we were there, our conversation returned several times to the artificiality of the environment. Vegas is about the least authentic place on earth. I remember one comment about the waste of both water and electricity in that city in the desert. But, like the hundreds of thousands of others there for St. Patrick’s Day (or March Madness or Spring Break), we were there to have fun. We didn’t dwell on anything as deep as what it meant to participate in the inauthenticity and waste that are the hallmarks of the Las Vegas experience. We were there to conspicuously consume, gamble, eat and gawk – not to think too much.
And so our three days in Vegas passed in an almost trance-like state. We ate when we felt like it, we drank when we felt like it, we slept as little as possible no matter what we felt like. Most of the time, I had no idea what time of day it was, nor did I track what I was spending. I was awake and moving, but a large part of me was asleep.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, to Saturday, April 2. 9:00 a.m. found me seated in a conference room, holding my Starbuck’s venti Americano in the iconic paper cup, ready for a symposium I was attending for work. The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I hadn’t really paid attention to what the symposium was about other than a vague idea that is was related to sustainability. I also was not thrilled to be spending another Saturday at a work-related event.
Five minutes into the symposium, I was crying. It would be difficult for me to tease apart the complex threads of emotion the symposium evoked, but it was comprised of shame, grief, fear, pain. In one of the symposium’s video modules, Joanna Macy says not to be afraid to feel the pain associated with what we are learning. She says we need to feel the pain, and follow it to what it springs from – which is love. Love of this earth, love of our fellow humans, love of our fellow inhabitants of the planet.
The name of the powerful symposium, “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream”, is now etched on my memory. As is the goal of the alliance who created it: “Bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.” What resonates with me about this particular take on our environmental future is, first, the direct line of connection drawn between the environment, spirit and social justice. Second, the hopeful stance taken that we can, indeed, change the trajectory we are currently moving along.
“Awakening the dreamer” speaks to the idea that most of us in wealthy, privileged societies, are living in a kind of trance or dream which allows us to “not know” that our choices, our consumption, our distraction have real and damaging consequences in the world. The video modules tell a powerful story of this dream world we’re living in, and it rings true. My friends and I experienced it in a palpable way in Vegas, where it was so exaggerated that it actually impinged on our consciousness (most days in our normal routines, we never even notice we are living in a dream).
And here’s the thing: I think many of us have, for a while, been on the verge of waking up. You know, like those times when you are lying in bed and start to wake up, maybe you even crack your eyes open — only to quickly tell yourself to just close them again and you’ll get back to sleep. I’ve peeked at this world and quickly closed my eyes again because it is so much easier to stay asleep. I don’t have to recycle. I don’t have to make my own coffee or argue with the barrista to put it in my reusable mug. As long as I can continue to “not know”, I can enjoy the lights on the Vegas strip without thinking about the Navajo people living at Black Mesa.
But how authentic or just or spiritually fulfilling is that? Maybe we should just take a deep breath and open our eyes.
The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.
— Joanna Macy