Even as the climate and extinction news grows worse day by day, I remain convinced that Consciousness is the wild card that gives humanity a choice. We can deny the reality of the changed climate that is already upon us, or we can accept our likely doom within a generation—or we can muster all the powers of a possible collective quantum leap of Consciousness to visualize a different, happier, more balanced world. What if we then imagine the path by which we got there, and just proceed that way?
A month ago, a full moon ago, I was at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland for a weeklong conference on Climate Change and Consciousness, CCC19. I’d eagerly signed up nearly two years ago, after attending Experience Week at Findhorn and hearing the tantalizing title.
The chronicle of climate-related disasters that occurred between my signing up and my attending would fill pages. With a heart sinking as fast as South Pacific islands and coastlines in Florida and Alaska, I wondered whether we were entering runaway climate change already, and if I would even be able to travel to Scotland in April, 2019. Would planes still be flying?
As it turned out, they were. Sort of. I was a day late leaving Albuquerque for my dinner meeting with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! because of severe storms in Dallas that forced the cancellation of some 3000 flights. Not that severe weather in April in Dallas alone is a sign of climate breakdown. But coupled with the “bomb cyclone” that swept with fury across the midsection of the country the week before, it’s hard to ignore the trend. The mainstream US media, which has gotten somewhat better in its climate change coverage since the destruction by fire of the town of Paradise, California last November, barely covered the massive floods in Nebraska and along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which have gone on for more than a month. And the devastation on the Oglala Lakota reservation of Pine Ridge, the poorest place in North America, has been virtually blacked out, with the current president even refusing a disaster declaration.
I reach Findhorn the day before Easter. It’s a spectacular time of year. All the fruit trees are in full bloom, clouds of rose and white embracing the comforting buzzing of bees. The same trees that were in full bloom two weeks later on my visit two years ago. But my heart stays in the moment, grateful to be back in Findhorn’s magic, and happy to be meeting with 350 people as concerned about the climate crisis as I am. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Which is a good thing, because on an “unseasonably warm” Easter Monday—at about 74 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than the Mediterranean that day—a wind-fanned gorse fire breaks out about 20 miles away. The acrid smell of burning wildland, familiar to me from years in California and New Mexico, stings our nostrils and throats, and a weirdly orangish cloud of smoke clings to the southern sky like a shroud of doom. It will become one of the largest fires in the UK in 40 years before it is under control a few days later. But today when I searched for information on it, I see that there is yet another serious fire in the area.
As I walk in the sand dunes covered with yellow-blossomed gorse, the woodlands, and Findhorn’s famed gardens, I can feel that the land is far dryer than it was two years ago. But I focus on the inspiration of 350 people from 45 countries ranging from teens to 80’s who are dedicated to understanding, discussing, and proposing solutions for and actions on the issues that have haunted my heart for years—the twin demons of climate change and biodiversity loss.
The science is truly dire, but I knew that before I came here. A couple of weeks before I left for Scotland, I heard journalist and author Dahr Jamal speak on his new book, The End of Ice. In the face of a preponderance of grim scientific evidence from all over the planet, from oceans to mountains to forests, it’s clear that according to Newtonian physics many tipping points have already been reached. I’m left unsettled by what I regard as Jamal’s message of hopelessness, of acceptance of defeat.
And yet…no one truly knows the future. In a quantum world, there is inherent unpredictability. In the Q & A, I speak up in favor of holding paradox: we can at the same time deeply and honestly grieve the damage that has already been done, and hold hope in our hearts and lives for mitigation and even healing. Grateful as I am for people like Jamal who are telling the hard truths, in my own visions and prayers I still prefer to go all the way to the seemingly impossible re-vision of actually reversing climate change.
And that’s why I’m here, at Findhorn, birthplace of angel cards and “Expect a Miracle.” I hope to find the raw ingredients of an amazing concoction of miracles and healings. And it had better be really BIG miracles, really SOON.
Our opening ceremony invokes angels: the Landscape Angel, the overarching Angel of Findhorn, and the Angel of Synthesis who quietly presides over the conference and weaves its disparate strands from many cultures, places, and backgrounds together.
Then we turn to science. Our first keynote is famed activist and author Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. I’d just watched him interviewed by Amy Goodman a few days ago in New York, but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him. He’d rushed out of the studio after his interview, clearly a man on a mission. On this Saturday night before the traditional Christian dawn of hope on Easter Sunday, he speaks by video conferencing of how dramatically the planet has changed in the 30 years since his seminal book, The End of Nature. The summer Arctic has lost half of its sea ice (oops, make that almost all the ice older than four years, as of a couple of days ago), the oceans are 30% more acidic, and the hydrological cycle is out of balance planetwide.
At 1.2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels, we are already in uncharted territory. “This is the first time test that humans have come up against,” he says, citing the harsh, detached reality of physics. At the same time, he finds reason for cautious optimism. Activists around the world—from the School Strike for Climate started by a lone teenager, Greta Thunberg, in 2018, to the dedicated civil disobedience of Extinction Rebellion going on in London the week we meet—are “working towards a shift in the Zeitgeiest,” the spirit of the times.
“It is a burden to be alive with this knowledge,” he says passionately, “but also an extraordinary privilege. There is nothing more important that we could be doing.”
The two greatest inventions of the 20th century, McKibben believes, were the solar panel and non-violent organizing. He finds hope in the explosion of the use of solar panels as their cost has lowered, from large-scale arrays to the African woman who saves up to buy a small solar panel to power a lightbulb or charge a cell phone. He is deeply inspired by the activism of indigenous communities around the world who call us back to the honoring of Mother Earth.
It is a theme that will recur throughout the week. Separation from the very Nature that supports and sustains every aspect of our lives is truly the original “sin,” the “missing the mark,” the separation from Source that all mystic traditions long to bridge.
Some talks are hopeful, like Vandana Shiva’s enthusiastic keynote on “Soil not Oil” focusing on Regenerative Agriculture practices that rebuild the soil’s ability to hold carbon and produce nutritious food, and on righting the “wrong actions” that have caused the climate crisis. There are also frightening, breathless moments. “Uncle” Angaangkak Angakkorsuaq, a Greenland Inuit elder and healer, silences the room by telling us that it’s already too late to ever reverse the loss of the world we knew.
Although I had a lovely interaction with Uncle A the day before over coffee, talking about our mutual Greenlandic Inuit musician friend, I’m suddenly so outraged and angry that I almost miss the rest of his message. The bearer of the healing Wind Drum believes we can “melt the ice in the hearts of people.” He quotes his grandmother’s teaching: “Life is a ceremony…A flower will open in your heart, and the flower is your beauty…The winds of change will come upon you and blow away the seeds of your ceremony…but it is no longer yours. You caused the seeds to grow in someone else.”
We also listen to the anguish of the youth. As one teen-age boy said, “I was born into a world that is already dying.” This is the generation who will be affected, along with the children of non-human animals, by the failure of the world’s politicians and corporations to take action against climate breakdown. Some of my generation blame themselves—in a sense we are all culpable—and others know that we have done all we can for decades to bring these issues to public attention. Together, intergenerationally, inter-culturally, we express the dark spectrum of fear, grief, and rage—while some of us reach for hope against hope, like humble Hobbits in the burning land of Mordor who refuse to give up.
Mama Visolela Namises from Namibia opens the Easter Sunday session with a blessing. She blows water in the four directions, and offers ash from Mother Earth, sea weed from the Atlantic, a feather, and a tortoiseshell with the message “don’t rush with me.” She brings greetings from the ancestors: “they say they know, we must come back and consult with them.” I feel a resonance, remembering several powerful experiences with healers and wisdom-holders of the Southern African traditions who call upon the ancestors for wisdom in times of trouble.
The speakers are by turns inspiring and frightening, but I feel the true work of the conference is in the subtle web-weaving between the ordinary participants. At the frequent tea breaks and the beyond-delicious vegetarian lunches and dinners for 350, I reach out to connect. Sometimes I seek out people with whom I have had “turn to someone near you and engage in Deep Listening” sessions, and sometimes I pick a table of people I haven’t yet met. It is a comfort that all of us have basic shared values and are eager to talk about the very issues closest to my heart that most of my casual acquaintances shun.
Themes emerge. The reasons for our current problem become clear: separation from each other and from Nature, Gaia, Mother Earth, Source; domination over instead of cooperation with. Possible and positive solutions reiterate, from solar panels to planting a trillion trees. But in a microcosm of the separation, some indigenous participants express feeling disrespected and not listened to. The organizers make heartfelt apologies, which are graciously accepted, but much healing remains to be done, on an individual and collective level, between the industrialized West and the Global South and Arctic peoples who are already on the suffering frontlines of the climate emergency. We reel from the news that a second unprecedented cyclone is hitting Mozambique and neighboring countries as we hold our conference.
On Day 4 (I think), we engage in Emergent Space. Concentric circles of chairs surround the center, with five “gateways”: Grief, Fear, Wild Card, Consciousness, and Optimism.
In the Deep Listening, I pair with an anxious mother of two young children who lives in a rural area of southern England. She tearfully tells me that she is terrified for her children’s future, especially after Uncle A had told her at dinner the night before that it was all over. For what it’s worth, I share with her that in the intuitive readings I give numerous people as part of my work, I still see futures for people’s children and grandchildren that don’t involve living in a bunker underground.
I listen as people walk in through various doorways to the center and share from their hearts. My heart goes out to an Iranian woman, artist Pupak Haghighi, as she emotionally speaks for the people of the Fertile Crescent, already suffering the effects of climate change that have caused wars and refugees. Though she is an active member of the loving Findhorn community, she carries a loneliness in being the sole representative of her people and part of the world.
I too am moved to share. I enter through the Wild Card gate and speak my truth: Consciousness is the Wild Card. I’ve walked the roads of intense grief and fear on many a sleepless night, and probably will again, but over and over I return to the idea that increasing Consciousness is the unpredictable Wild Card that will lead us to optimism, to the paradox of holding hope in the face of all but certain doom. For Pupak, for everyone, I am moved to quote the first two lines of the Sufi poet Rumi’s Masnawi. First, for her, in Farsi, and then in English translation:
“Listen to the reed flute as it tells its story,
It is crying from the separation from its Source.”
I realize as I speak what a perfect metaphor these 13th century lines are for our current dilemma. For it is this very separation from Nature, from indigenous knowledge, from the Earth that is the source of all our sustenance, that has led us to this bleak and often hopeless moment in time.
And yet, in the increasing awakening of of awareness, compassion, and love in each of our hearts and minds lies our hope of getting back to Source in time. I speak of the miracles I have witnessed—and upon occasion perhaps co-created—in my decades as an energy healer. I’ve participated in double-blind controlled scientific studies of the effects of Distant Healing on patients with AIDS, and have simply seen too many of what would be defined as miracles not be believe that a planetary-scale miracle is somehow possible.
It will be perhaps the biggest miracle in human history—the healing of an entire planetary eco-system and climatic system through the unprecedentedly rapid transformation of world economic and political systems to bring about a great rebalancing. But what better place to conceive of these collective miracles of co-creation than Findhorn, a place that has seen miracles and magic for more than half a century?
In this Emergent Space, Charlotte Dufour, a French nutritionist and Ananda yoga teacher who has done aid work in Afghanistan and Africa, speaks passionately about the need to act from joy and love. She will say this over and over during the conference, until many of us start incorporating “joy and love” into our words and lives. Planting a trillion trees—with joy and love. Supporting the youth in a school strike—with joy and love. Creating art, writing poetry, or a cli-fi novel like my Weather Menders—with joy and love. Growing a garden, preparing delicious food full of chi—with joy and love. Singing, dancing, practicing yoga, creating theater, playing the part of the clown—with joy and love. Simply being in Nature, with joy and love.
I resolve to live my life differently, knowing that I will still mourn and grieve and rage and from time to time succumb to fear. But I will return again and again to love and joy.
In the end, we somewhat chaotically co-create a flower-pattern of intentions, a “harvesting” of ideas and dreams. At the center is “manifesting a life-affirming culture”—a phrase adapted from eco-philosopher Joanna Macy’s work—along with “sharing a vision” and “listening into unity.” Ideas for actions and intentions, practical and spiritual, fill in the many petals.
Together, we create what I think of as a basket of joy, hope, and love to carry with us in our hearts as we return to our various homes with our varying tasks.
Conference convener Stephanie Mines, a neuropsychologist and healer, sums it up, speaking of the Angel of Synthesis: “She is the one who weaves together all the visions that have been shared here.”
Weaving, with joy and love.
Debra Denker is the author of the ecotopian cli-fi novel Weather Menders.