I've been writing and lecturing on conscious aging as a spiritual and mystical experience for over twenty-five years. Then, more recently, I came to see that a spiritual and mystical awareness of life is also critical to our survival in the rapidly escalating climate crisis, so I wrote, Mystical Activism: Transforming a World in Crisis in support of climate activism. But now there's even more. As the coronavirus burst upon the scene, I realized that climate change was only one of a new "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The storied marauders of old – death, plague, war and famine – had morphed into the coronavirus pandemic, rapidly-escalating climate disruption, uncontrolled population growth, and the unraveling of modern civilization.
We are now heading into a sustained global crisis of unimaginable proportions. I fear for the future of my family and friends, as I'm sure you fear for the future of your loved ones, and I worry for the future of the human family and life itself. But this is also an invitation. We are being called to reinvent our lives, our work, and our civilization in a new consciousness of Creation. The old world was rife with manmade problems – political corruption, wealth inequities, global warming, overpopulation, homelessness, racism, sexism, and ageism – it's time for a new one. That's why I wrote, Aging with Vision, Hope and Courage in a Time of Crisis.
This post, based on the book, was written for anyone over 65 wrestling with fear, despair, insecurity, and loneliness in this time of crisis, but it also applies more generally to everyone. A blend of psychology, self-help, spirituality and mysticism, it's meant for all audiences - everyday people and spiritual seekers - who need facts, respect, compassion, and meaningful resources to light the path ahead. My goal is to move us from denial, fear and paralysis to growth, inspiration and engagement.
How Can We Respond to this Rising Global Catastrophe?
As a psychologist, minister, and writer on conscious aging, I see preparing for this collective crisis in Five Dimensions: practical, psychological, spiritual, mystical, and the wisdom of the sage.
1. Practical: Obviously, we need to survive. We need the basics - water, food, shelter, medicine, safety. We also need an accurate account of what's happening in the world from week to week to act accordingly. The more we plan in advance for long-term adaptation, the better our chances of survival. This is a matter for all of us at local, regional and national levels, using science, technology, agriculture and politics to developing wide-ranging contingency plans to work together in the years ahead.
2. Psychological: When we lift the lid of denial, the magnitude of our impending trauma feels crushing and unbearable. Its scale is terrifying and mounting anxiety and distress can break our resolve and our spirits. We erupt angrily, hide in denial, or go numb, responses consistent with our deepest animal instincts of fight, flight, or freeze. Tragically, a fourth emotional response also beckons – collapsing in despair when hope dwindles. None of these reactions will help us adapt to this changing world. What we need most in the beginning is mutual support, compassion and understanding, tenderly holding our troubled and frightened hearts until basic stability returns and emotional reorganization can begin. And, we must always remember community. Rather than isolating ourselves in fortresses of fear and paranoia for survival, we need to stay in community. Remember that isolation breeds depression, hopelessness, and fear; especially in sustained crises, community is the cure. Divided, we cower, together we can be an amazing force of healing, creativity and commitment. Reach out. Communicate. Ask for help. We must be there for each other.
3. Spiritual: Everyone has personal spiritual beliefs of one sort or another – beliefs about ultimate issues like the meaning of life, the value of love, the nature of suffering, what happens at death, and the transcendent dimension by whatever name. These beliefs may be religious, spiritual, humanistic, aesthetic, cosmological, or grounded in scientific wonder and awe. One of the gifts of spirituality is that it can provide a supportive framework of hope and deep understanding in times of hardship or crisis. When terrible things happen, we ask profound questions about the significance of the event that go beyond physical facts to the level of transcendent meaning and purpose. Our spiritual and religious beliefs, readings, and prayers can stir answers and comfort us, help us bear the unbearable, find new meaning of our struggle, and provide hope for the future. They can also deepen our connection with the divine through prayer, contemplation, meditation, ritual, fasting, art and dance. By creating a real and felt connection to the sacred, we experience religious truths for ourselves and kindle new depths of love, compassion and hope.
4. Mystical: While mysticism has been disparaged and misunderstood for centuries, the word simply refers to the firsthand experience of the sacred. It's not weird, "woo woo," or far out. We've all had big or little mystical experiences, like the stunned amazement of meeting our newborn child for the first time, standing in silent awe gazing up at ancient redwoods, falling in love for the first time, feeling the palpable holiness of a sacred place, or simply being deeply present at the passing of a loved one. In these moments, the mind stops its chatter, perception heightens, and we subtly experience the sacredness that pervades Creation. Mystical Experience is a breakthrough of the divine into personal awareness that reveals the absolute sacredness of life. Why is this critical? We have removed ourselves from Creation. Our waking hours are now spent in artificially insulated environments separated from the natural world - cars, houses, offices, stores, coffee shops, and jobs; worse, our consciousness is totally consumed by TV, cell phones, head phones, video games, the internet, news feeds, social media, endless conversations, and our own unruly chattering minds. We don't see the sacred world anymore! That's why it's in crisis. But we can learn to experience it directly and immersion in the sacred presence in Creation can provide guidance and motivation we need.
5. The Wisdom of the Sage: As we grow older, we integrate our life experience, practical survival skills, evolving self, and our psychological, spiritual and mystical resources to nourish the wisdom of the sage – one who can stand in the fire, stay focused, and provide meaningful and inspiring leadership. We find the authority of the moral voice, a voice that speaks for humanity, all sentient beings, and future generations, and the vision of the mystic, who sees the sacred nature of life on Earth. We create our most mature self, we help build loving community, and we invite all to participate in healing the planet. We use the practical savvy acquired in decades of life experience to approach problems from a wiser perspective.
Engaging these Five Dimensions of response to this challenging time can be immensely helpful, but there is another profoundly important step and that's your own transformation.
I want to invite you now to explore your own unique contribution to healing humanity and Creation. Below is a guided imagery exercise for discovering your soul's deepest calling in this challenging time. Have no expectations, go deep, and see what you find. If you wish, you can record these instructions and then play them back to reduce the distraction of reading (give yourself 15-20 seconds between instructions for the process to take hold).
1. Begin by taking a couple deep breaths and settle comfortably into your chair, your body, your being. Take your time. Relax. Let this meant to be a peaceful, gentle, and inspiring experience.
2. Let your thoughts slow down, unwind, and come to rest. Release the questions, distractions and issues of the day and center your attention deep inside, descending into the rich dark inner space of self or spirit. Breathe slowly and let each breath take you deeper.
3. Now picture yourself standing by a clear pool of water in a beautiful natural setting on a lovely day. You might hear birds chirping or leaves rustling in the gentle breeze. Feel the warm sun on your face and shoulders. Smell the grass or dirt beneath your bare feet. Just be there, fully present, patient and trusting.
4. You have come to this sacred pool to seek guidance in finding your own best way of caring for the world. To help you succeed in this quest, silently call out for any friends, allies, ancestors, spirits, wisdom figures, angels or other beings whose support you value. Who do you want to be with you in this inner search? Imagine asking them to come and help you understand and find this work of your soul. Picture them coming forward and standing around the beautiful clear water with you. Feel them joining you, aligning their highest energies with yours.
5. Open yourself also to the deep energy of the sacred Earth that holds and embraces you, to the stars and the cosmos that sense your existence, and to the divine being, however you conceive it, and feel its loving Presence surround you.
6. Now think of one question about your reason for coming here. Any question you like. Let that question become clear inside. Now, in the silence of this deep inner space, standing beside this pool, supported by wise and loving beings, silently ask that question and look deeply into the water. Be still and patient. Wait until some kind of answer rises - an image, metaphor, feeling, figure, idea, place - whatever. Take your time. Let your question be a mantra.
7. Reflect on what has been revealed. How might it help you answer your question? Hold it dear. If nothing has come to you, save the question in your soul and wait for a revelation to come later on when the time is right.
8. Now thank the beings who came to help you. Express your love and gratitude for their assistance as they now depart and feel their gratitude as well for the work you're doing on yourself and in the world.
9. Find your way back to the present, to this moment, and your normal experience of self and body, and when you're ready, open your eyes and get re-oriented to where we are.
10. Finally, take a moment to reflect on your experience. What does it mean to you? Later, be sure to write about it and see what else it may have to teach you.
My goal in this post has been to help you begin to prepare for a journey that will change the world. It's time to get ready. We are the Earth's healers and saviors – how we live, work, love, celebrate and care for each other and all of Creation will profoundly affect the lives of our friends, partners, children, grandchildren, and descendants, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. You are here at this time in history for deeply personal reason as well. Find it in your soul and let it guide your personal response to humankind's biggest challenge. As we prepare for the coming storm, we change ourselves so we can change the world.