Transition Whatcom

I started reading this book and can not put it down. It is hard to accept, but inside i know I must.

Sacred Demise by Carolyn Baker:


By Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD, LCSW

If you’re reading this book you already know we’re living in perilous
times. By now most people are waking up to that fact. Even President Obama
has warned us that difficult times lie ahead. Just days before taking office
when asked if sacrifice will be required of everyone, Obama told the nation,
“Everyone is going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some
skin in the game.”

But even recognizing that times are tough, chances are reading this
book will feel overwhelming and unsettling at times. I know it has been for me
and I’ve been studying, writing, and teaching about the implications of such
threats as peak oil, climate change, and economic collapse over half a decade.
But I’d like to suggest that we welcome whatever feelings of overwhelm or
disquiet this book may stir in us, because like the medicine our mothers gave
us as children, they will make us better.

I say this because Carolyn is not one to beat around the bush. Her focus is not
on statistics, charts, and data demonstrating the factual realities of our economic
situation. There are ample books with such information. Most of them
touch lightly on the focus of this book, firmly acknowledging its importance,
but skittering on to the facts.

In Peak Everything, for example, Richard Heinberg emphasizes that
“Much of the human impact (of peak oil and climate change) will be
measurable in economic terms; however, individual and collective
psychological effects will perhaps be of equal and often greater significance.”
Having observed the effects economic collapse of the USSR in the 1990’s,
Dmitry Orlov agrees. In Reinventing Collapse, he writes, “Economic collapse is
about the worst time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is
what often happens.”

Fact is, the future is going to be hard to swallow, not only presenting
practical day-to-day challenges but deeply impacting our emotional and
spiritual lives. In Sacred Demise Carolyn doesn’t just touch on this fact. She
dares to make it the sole focus of our attention, reaching far beneath the
statistic, charts, and generalizations about their implications and delving
deeply into the heart and soul of the inner traumas and turmoil we will most
likely encounter. She zeroes right in on the very places we want to run away
from, ignore, and rationalize, including the profound loss we will feel.
This naked honesty about such matters is only the context of the book, not its
purpose. This is not a doom and gloom book. It’s about looking squarely at
the reality of our circumstances, as incomprehensible and uncomfortable as
they may be, and exploring the potential for personal growth, transformation,
and resurrection.

By openly sharing her personal experiences and the wisdom, poetry,
questions, and activities included in the book, she draws upon herself to
understand and grow from our circumstances by infusing them with
compassion. Carolyn makes us feel safe venturing into the tender, vulnerable

She says let’s look straight on at what we’re facing and allow it to be a
grand teaching to deepen our understanding of life and our place in it. While
the reality of what we are dealing with may be overwhelming when seen with
such stark honesty, isn’t that what we yearn for? Isn’t the failure to talk
together in this way what unsettles us most? Like the young child whose
parents won’t talk about a life-threatening illness that’s befallen their
household or the child who on the way to the dentist is told “It won’t hurt at
bit,” we don’t want to be blindsided by realities that could be opportunities
instead to prepare ourselves and make ourselves strong and capable.
After all, what is being overwhelmed but a just fast flowing river of experience
we need to catch our breath for; a rug pulled out from beneath our feet to get
up from, an unexpected encounter we can surprise ourselves with by
responding to aptly? Chances are as you read on page-by-page you will begin
to feel oddly relieved. You’ll be getting your bearings in a reality that at first
seems foreign and frightening but gradually reveals itself as a truth you have
long known already.

Certainly that has been true for me. From the time I was a small child I
sensed there was something very wrong with how things work in our humanmade
world. I spent many hours out of doors where everything seemed to
make sense, but as I matured I concluded there must be some flaw within
myself that was preventing me from understanding what everyone else
seemed to grasped so easily, that our culture works to our best interest even
if it appears otherwise. With that mind I undertook the arduous task of
molding myself into what was expected of me hoping at some point
everything would fall into place as promised.

It was not until I entered the ecopsychology PhD program that I came
to see how terribly disconnected, distorted, and dysfunctional our human
world has become; how tragically separated we’ve become from the natural
world we are innately part of. As I began to learn from nature how naturally
other life forms function, I was heartened by my four years in which I had the
pleasure of experiencing how naturally and organically life could unfold. Oh,
surely not without challenge or discomfort, but like riding down that fastflowing
river. At times it’s surging furiously; at other times it’s bubbling along
gently. But it’s always ever- changing and engaging, always keeping me on
my toes, yet something perfectly natural I could navigate as long as I paid

“Ah, ha!” I concluded, at last I will know how to live in our world! When
I complete the program I will return to the “normal world” and just continue living in accord with nature’s ways. But that was not to be. Returning to the
“normal world” was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. My shortlived,
free-flowing journey through life ran smack dab into a massive cultural
dam of expectations and limitations as difficult for us to escape from as it is
for any river to circumvent the manmade dams we’ve constructed to divert
and contain.

This is when I realized fully how virtually impossible it is to function
naturally and healthfully within the demands of our growth-oriented,
consumer-driven, materialistic, and hierarchical culture. But that’s the world
that’s crumbling now. While we may enjoy many of its conveniences and
comforts, or at least have the promise of enjoying them, we also know the
price we pay to pursue and maintain them is high. The stress, the long hours,
the fast pace, the pressure, the fatigue, and the demands on our time by
tasks far different from those we’d prefer. Our way of life is not only wearing
down the natural world, it’s also wearing down our psychic and our physical
well-being. No matter how many possessions we garner or how much money
we make, there is never enough to quell our yearning for a greater sense of
peace, potency, normalcy, and well-being.

Granted, the difficulties we’re facing will not bring us this kind of wellbeing
anytime soon. Probably anything but, at first, because few of us are
prepared mentally or spiritually for the onslaught of feelings, the tide of
emotions, the rush of the unexpected that is engulfing us. After all, the world that anchors our daily lives now is collapsing right along with the dam upon
which our current way of life in built. We don’t know if we’ll make it to the
bottom of the spillway as the dam cracks and breaks away. Assuredly some of
us won’t. Even if we do, there is no guaranteed, made-to-order world awaiting
us on the river once it has burst forth from the dam. For sure there will be no
welcoming “comfort inns” along the shore. We’re uncertain what the
unleashed river of our life will look like or if we will have the knowledge, skills,
and acumen to survive in it.

But life, death, mystery, uncertainty, paradox, and danger are all part of
the natural world we inhabit. As Henry David Thoreau discovered and
expressed so aptly after abandoning his attempt to climb Maine’s Mt. Ktaadn,
there is in nature “a force not bound to be kind to man, an awesome, primal
force of evolving matter-in-motion,” a force, I might add, that has proven to
be beyond our control to manipulate and mould to our desire. This simple
insight is not easily accepted in our culture where we learn that anything we
believe, we can achieve, and it is something Carolyn invites us to address
before it’s too late.

Sacred Demise is an opportunity to do the emotional and spiritual
preparation we need to be present, awake, and responsive in awesome
circumstances we can’t control or prevent. Each chapter invites us to delve
deeper into ourselves, deeper into who we are and how we fit into the natural
world outside our roles in a crumbling system. From that blatantly honest,
deep place of our hearts and souls we can begin to find our way to a more
natural way of life and glimpse how the grand unleashing of the waters
constrained behind our current way of life could bring us the peace, potency,
normalcy, and well-being we yearn for.

The operative word in this possibility is find. Throughout Sacred Demise,
Carolyn refers to many insights from Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist,
psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning of
his experiences in the Nazi death camps. Some years ago I had the honor
and pleasure of interviewing Frankl. His rather stern rebuke of a question I
raised left me with an enigma I spent many years wondering about. Not until
midway through my ecopsychology program and many learning experiences in
nature did I finally understand what Frankl was getting at and why he
correctly me so sharply. I had made an innocent error common to our culture,
an error we all need to correct to be prepared mentally and emotionally for
the years ahead.

As I began to ask how we create meaning in our lives, Frankl
interrupted me abruptly, “Not create meaning, find meaning.” And so it is in
the adventure Carolyn invites us to undertake in Sacred Demise. The pages
that follow are an invitation to find meaning in a time of collapse so that when
our preconceived and manufactured dreams for how we’d like things will often
no longer be relevant, it needn’t be also the end of joy and value. This is a
worthy task because only from a place of such personal meaning can we build
new lives along life’s free-flowing river, if not for ourselves then at least for
those who come after us.

Sarah Anne Edwards, LCSW, PhD Ecopsychologist, provides continuing
education courses for helping professionals through the Pine Mountain
Institute and directs Let's Live Local, a non-profit organization working to build
local resilience. She's the co-author of Middle-Class Lifeboat, and a trainer for
the US Transition Initiatives Network.

Views: 51

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Thanks Travis for recommending this book & posting the forward.
I stand both in awe of the miracle & diversity of life,
and I bow in grief to the harm that is inflicted on the earth & its beings.
May we co-create a new vision & walk together while riding the waves of wonder & grief.
Hi Travis,

I started reading this book as well, but had a different experience. I appreciate a lot of what Carolyn Baker has contributed via her blog, and was really looking forward to this book, because I think it's such a vital topic.

I was disappointed by some of the mistakes that made it through the editorial process, and by some of the ideas expressed - some of which I didn't agree with, and some of which I think were expressed a little too simplistically.

Still, I plan to return to the book when I'm able and read further. In spite of all I've said, I still believe I will find some valuable insights. I like Sarah Edwards' intro.

I am still progressing through the book, but I admit that the editorial mistakes are troubling to me too, I have been trying to dismiss them so far, but they do not inspire confidence.
Well said. I think why I am compelled to read this book is because it is the first reading I have done that forces me to think through how radical this change will be and is also forcing me to prepare. I am a bit of a newbie here. I had not realized that such radical change was coming so quickly (my first awakening was reading Jeff Rubin’s book – “why the world is about to get a whole lot smaller” 1 month ago). I knew it was coming, but thought I had much more time to prepare. It is a lot to take in. I do not fear the change, in fact part of me welcomes it as it is about the only way we will reverse our damaging ways, but I worry most about how this change will effect my 2 young daughters and what I can do to make sure I do everything I can to prepare them for this radically different life ahead of us.

Reply to Discussion


© 2023   Created by David MacLeod.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service