The Gift of North

There are two roads in front of you.

You can keep living unsustainably and do whatever you have to, to push the day of cultural reckoning onto the shoulders of the next generation. If you mine the wind, the sun, uranium, asteroids, and planets, you might not (emphasis on “might”) have to face the reality or meaning of Winter’s natural limits on food, water, and shelter during your lifetime. But you will still have to face Winter in your own life — because you will age or get sick, and then you will die. And you won’t know how to face that Winter when it comes, because you will never have received the gift North offers the world.

You could also realize that life is about more than having everything you want whenever you want it. You could realize there is a natural value system inherent in the world itself, embedded in natural laws of relationship and reciprocity. You could stop and face the North, brave Winter’s time of depletion while the Land rests and restores itself, and open your heart to what you can learn there. For the great and powerful gift of the North is SUSTAINBILITY.

The reason Western culture does not know how to live sustainably is that it will not face, accept, and learn from the North. It has run from it in terror and dread for centuries, afraid of eternal and endless death without rebirth, afraid of apocalypse.

But life is not linear. It has no “end.” It is a Circle. Every day passes into night and then again into day. Every year passes from summer into winter and then spring and then summer again. Even stars go through life cycles in which a dying supernova seeds the universe with new elements that coalesce into new suns and new worlds, each of them bathed in light on one side and the darkness of space on the other, rotating and orbiting once again in reborn circles of day-night-day and summer-winter-summer.

The ontologically real and natural world, the Land, tells no Story of apocalypse. Apocalypse is a projection of the linear Western mind.

The danger in saying this is that a linear mind, hearing there’s no apocalyptic winter of world death on the way, assumes there is instead a permanent all-you-can-eat-buffet of endless summer. And in that simple shift, you see how the misperception of reality as linear has created an unsustainable way of living that’s brought Western culture to its knees.

So let us remember the CIRCULAR nature of things. When night comes, it does not herald a permanent loss of the sun. But night does still come — regularly, in fact. Over and over.

This isn’t a problem unless we make it one.

We who live in and are a part of this natural world live in relationship with the cycles of day-night-day and summer-winter-summer. They manifest in the diurnal, circadian, and infradian rhythms and tides of our own endocrine systems. We sleep in the night. We go out in the day. We are born in our own season of spring, mature, grow old, and finally die in our own life’s season of winter. And then there is new birth in the spring. For generations come flowing along behind us, a tide of which we are ourselves a part, our ancestors flowing ahead of us, ripples of Life moving through the Land. When you release the fear of death — of self, of culture, and of the whole world — you gain the realized awareness of the great rippling river of life that flows forever, all of it an emergent phenomenon of the great and unimaginably complex web of relationships of which you are merely one precious part, responsible in relational accountability to every other infinitely precious thing in that web.

The great and powerful gift of North is the paradigmatic comprehension of sustainability that emerges from this true perception of Life.

Pause a moment, and let yourself feel it.

And then realize that for this beautiful web of life to continue to exist, you must let the Land heal and restore itself. It’s already been put off too long, and the longer we postpone wintering down so this can happen, the longer it will take for the Land to replenish itself.

Sustainability arrives when we understand that accepting things as they are includes accepting the limits nature’s laws place on the material prosperity of individuals.

This is the point where people in Western culture often say to me, “But people need hope.” When they perceive the real and natural limits to material consumption that exist when people live in relationship and reciprocity, it feels to them like a sad ending to the story. Given the choice of three futures — one of apocalypse, one of living in sustainable reciprocity, and one of ever-increasing GNP — they see hope only in a future of limitless increasing prosperity.

I understand what it means to need hope. But false hope is a very dangerous thing. And hope rooted in the possibility of limitless increasing prosperity is nothing but a cruel fiction. Look where it has brought you, and the world with you. Think about why you came to this exercise to begin with.

It’s not just Western cultures epistemic and value system that’s creating a problem here. For hope needs to bear within it the possibility of a world where a rich diversity of living things in harmonic, pulsing relationship with one another makes life unspeakably beautiful. My hope for you is that you’ll be restored to full life as a member of that web of relationships, and that one day you’ll be able to feel that powerful sense of connection again.  It is, after all, your birthright. So I know that when this happens, your deep yearning for Home will be satisfied and you will finally be happy. A bigger house and a faster car, even an electric one, will never give you that. It never has, which is why you’re always searching for more.

Getting to that place of healed and replenished Land from where we are right now isn’t going to be easy though. In trying to control the natural world to make things the way you want them to be, rather than accepting things as they are . . . well, all I can say is: New Orleans. That can’t be put right. And there are rising sea levels, destabilized seasons, storms and fires gaining intensity. We’re in a very difficult and dangerous time. And the most dangerous threat, that most desperately needs to be mitigated, is the threat that you will panic and flip back into Western culture’s paradigmatic behaviors again. Then you’ll “do” something to fix “just this one little thing” that’s creating a problem that, you know, simply has to be taken care of. And there you’ll be, off and running again — and all the real hope that existed in the situation for a brief, shining moment will spill and vanish like water soaking into sand.

Real life is beautiful. Life in the world your fix-it system of controlling the natural world to make it be the way you want it to be is not beautiful. This is either going to be the time you see this, or it’s not. If it’s not, there’s nothing more I can say.

There are two roads in front of you.

Please revisit our evaluation metric now. Remember that? Then you will go to part 4, which has only 3 pages. You are nearly done!