#GreatBigGreenWeek 18th – 26th September. Day Seven. I am looking for your words/artworks/photos/videos on Climate Change. Please join and add to the works of Sam Donaldson and I. I would love to feature your #ecopoetry, #geopoetry your #ecoartworks, your #ecophotos your short #ecoarticles, here. Your #ClimateChangepoetry, #ClimateChangeArtworks. I will feature your work in my blog posts during this period.

Great Big Green Week -Day Seven

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these days, the end-times

 

Sam Donaldson

 

For us in these times, to even have hope is too abstract, too detached, too spectatorial. Instead we must be a hope, a participant and a force for good as we face this catastrophe.

(Cornel West)

Hopeless Hope

These days weigh heavy, a burden upon the shoulders of my subconscious.

I am aware of a strong sense of hopelessness emerging within me. A deep despair and violent rage grow, despair and rage linked to what we are doing to our one and only planet, mother earth. I know that to be alive on this earth is a wonderful, bitter-sweet gift, but the more deeply I feel this connection the more deeply my despair and rage become, for dark, dark clouds are gathering overhead.

We live in a time when nuclear destruction is a probability but ecological destruction is a certainty, a time when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, when the dark clouds of neo-fascism gather overhead.

Hull, my home, is due to be one of the first cities in the UK to be lost to rising sea levels.

Is hope possible in this time of ours?

These days I have lost all interest in abstract ideas of hope, all interest in optimistic illusions which deny how hopeless our situation really is. These days I am interested only in that mysterious spiritual quality embodied by many people actively resisting the forces of death across the world, a paradoxical quality I like to call “hopeless hope”.

laughing while weeping

teach us how to sit in the sound of raw lament
guttural cries buried deep underground
under mountains of rock
under layers and layers and layers
of silence

teach us how to pray, how to sit
in the sound of mothers crying
“for aren’t we perhaps born
from another’s pain?”

isn’t it true that the Gods within
can only be woken by the wailing
of a people whipped and starved and chained?

teach us how to sit in the sound of bruised dark night
to hear its hidden message, the gospel
for these days of stillborn futures
no joy to birth

teach us how to pray
how to let salty water
tend to open sores, turning tears
into the smiles of children
emptying us of the years
and years
and years
of unwept weeping

fill us with the music of life
fill us with the pleasure of dance
fill us with the warm embrace of love

teach us how to laugh
while we weep

I Lost My Laughter

Humanity has always lived under the shadow of death. But death, in and of itself, is not the problem. As Martin Beck Matustik puts it, “Finitude and mortality motivate tears or inspire works of tragedy, but they do not yield the bitter fruit of hopelessness. That graver condition arises from a type of action that affects meaningful human flourishing at its heart.”

The problem is greed, ignorance, hatred. The problem is cruel death. The problem is evil.

Embracing our mortality enriches our lives, but the shadow of cruel death undermines it. Evil does something to us, in our depths, shaking any sense we may have that being alive is a gift. It causes us to wonder whether it would have been better that we had never existed at all, sapping the future of any vitality or possibility other than the possibility of worse yet to come.

A friend of mine, an environmental activist, told me of how from 2006-2008 he had immersed himself in researching and communicating climate science and politics, as well as taking action. He told me of how, in retrospect, this changed his personality fundamentally. He said, “I used to be very extrovert and fun and am now basically introvert and terribly earnest, amongst other impacts. I learned that facts do not change minds – at least certainly not in any predictable way. I learned that people do not want to talk to me about our world and future. I learned that more than adequate technological solutions already existed, but they were not going to be implemented. The Powers that Be would rather risk Armageddon. I lost my laughter.”

If it was in our power to dispense with this shadow of cruel death, then we might be able to cultivate some sense of optimistic hope. However, the great beast of imperialistic, white-supremacist, capitalist hetero-patriarchy, incessantly spewing out cruel death, is immense. This “filthy, rotten system”, as Dorothy Day put it, is seemingly all-powerful, its roots go deep into the very soil and soul of our society.

This beast far out-numbers and out-guns the tiny communities of loving-resistance that exist like little oases in a barren wasteland.

We know we cannot win.

But maybe, just maybe, we may not lose. Maybe, just maybe, we will be given the grace not to lose our humanity, not to lose our laughter!

the signs of the end-times

prophesy to the wind
the signs of the end-times

waters rise and rise and slowly warm
while we march on down to worship
at our shopping-mall cathedrals
like frogs, unaware, our curtains drawn
in cold midwinter
while we march on down to high street stores
heaters blasting through open doors
while we march on down to their mantra
buy buy buy
our call to prayer
sung from minarets and TV screens
to own our souls and fill
our empty dreams

prophesy to the wind

the engine chugs, pumping clouds of steam
faster faster faster
bellowing thick dark smoke from the machine
demanding
commanding us to
drill drill drill
for we have more people with more cars to fill
(it’s OK, our grandchildren can foot the bill)
no need to change
no need to struggle
sacrifice – that relic of a history now ended
of a by-gone age
buried now
replaced by the ascent of man
Babel’s rubble, reassembled brick by brick
by our bloodied hands
up beyond heaven
up beyond god
up beyond the earth into the cold dead stratosphere of steel
and rubbish dumps
our great plastic mounds
the inheritance we pass on
the very ground we leave
to our children
the soiled soil from which they’ll feed

prophesy to the wind

that our blind eyes cannot weep
that our deaf ears dull our minds to sleep
that our souls now quiet as stone
leave our hearts unkind, unknown

prophesy to the wind

the textbooks teach, the homework set
the message:
that life is elsewhere
better elsewhere
and that we must be beautiful, now
and strong, now
and happy, now
needing that and that and that
now
bombarded, in every place, in every moment
by pictures
thin happy bodies, faultless faces
so thin, so happy
images of perfect bliss
covered in gold, dancing in ecstasy
never alone, never old
unlike here, unlike this
unlike me
drilling, without anaesthetic, through our skulls
boring down into our very souls
to fill us with that emptiness untold
that place where
every piece of crap imaginable
can be sold

prophesy to the wind
that we are already dead

these are the signs of the end-times

The Gift of Lament

When asked how to save our planet, Thich Nhat Hanh responded, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.” In a similar vein, the theologian Walter Bruggemann writes that “anguish is the door to historical existence” and that the “embrace of ending permits beginnings”.

However, let’s not kid ourselves – the embrace of endings is not easy. In fact, it is a terrible thing, a death of sorts.

But the seed must die!

In their book Active Hope, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone talk about our need to undergo a virtuous spiral that moves from gratitude, to honouring our pain for the world, to seeing with new eyes, to going forth. Unless we allow ourselves to really feel and honour our pain for the world, we cannot move forward.

By plunging into the darkness of hopelessness and embracing our end, we allow ourselves to fully feel and honour our pain, and this in turn can transform us, enabling us to begin to see with new eyes, to go forth transformed to work for peace, justice and life.

As Carl Jung wrote, “It’s not by looking into the light that we become luminous but by plunging into the darkness.”

within this dying womb

within this dying womb
nine months of body bled dry around me
nine months of speaking to brick wall
inert

within this silenced body of hurt

I have spent my days pleading
but to no avail
finally cursing, striking out staff against cold, hard rock
against dry dry stone
striking out in anger
before sitting down in the dust
frustrated
exhausted
alone

still no water came

no word returned, these days of crying
now become decision
every heartbeat, every breath now a choice
for us
to compose a Requiem for this earth
to empty out our purse for the hospice nurse
now for comfort, no hope to mend
to sing out a haunting Lacrimosa
for our mother
for our lover
for our friend

We Can’t Just Weep

For a long while I have been drawn to Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, the prophet of doom who is called by God to try and wake his people up to their oncoming destruction, to speak, knowing no-one will listen.

There is a prophet in me too who weeps in despair, who wants to rant and rave, accusing all those who are sleeping-walking our species off the edge of a cliff (myself included). The prophet in me wants to silence every laugh and to wipe off every smile from every face, to close down every party and to grieve at every birth.

And yet, the more I reflect, the more I realise that while darkness is true, it is not the whole truth, and that weeping alone will not help us navigate our way through all this darkness. I have come to see that we need to laugh while weeping.

I am learning that our weeping needs to be balanced by, and grounded in laughter, rest, self-care, gratitude, and play. Otherwise it can spiral down into desperation or frustrated fury.

Deeply playful, joyful celebration is not a betrayal of those suffering and dying under our filthy rotten system, if it emerges from our day to day struggles of compassionate care and prophetic witness. In fact, it is a form of solidarity, a way of enacting a little bit of the world we desire for all. We celebrate deeply because the struggle is so tough. We laugh outrageously because we cry so painfully, and so often. The two go hand in hand.

deadly silence

drifting through this land
of no conversation
of deadly silence
of neon lights, car-exhausts
smartphones and reality TV

drifting through this land
now become a living cemetery
of indifference
now become an orphanage
devoid of touch
built of saddened walls
stained by unheard cries
no longer cried
cries of gentle bodies chained to beds
cries buried deep into bone marrow
as cancer, biting from the inside
like the cold of lonely winter

drifting through this land
where nothing happens to no-one

I ask myself
can anyone remember
why we killed God?
why we tore down temples?
why we poured concrete over sacred places?

beneath this silence
another silence whispers
that it was the men of philosophy
of science
of money and power
who chained the last poet down
to the cold hard vivisection table
while she cried
“Holy is the world! Holy is the soul! Holy is the skin!”
and they cut out her tongue

and now the trees no longer speak
and now the birds have forgotten their names
and now the rivers are muddied with oil

for it was cement and aluminium
that banished the spirits
that ate brains and imaginations
leaving only the dead silence
of pure machinery
of demonic industry
flourishing in the hushed shadows
of blind capitals, shrouded in fog

Moloch! Moloch!
this is your turf

so these days I see it as foolish
to sit like King Cnut
enthroned at the ocean’s edge
forbidding this world to be this world
forbidding plastic and oil
machine and tower-block
forbidding it all to be

for that is not poetry

poetry is to sing like a bird
in the dark, waiting for the morning light
or to bend down and write in the sand
words that will be forgotten forever
or to curate ordinary time
tending to kitchen table and fire-place
to create an exhibition
of such warmth, laughter and beauty
that Holy Trinity longing to be born
like an idea
like a field of white roses
like the never-ending hymn

Holy! Holy! Holy!

Holy is the world!
Holy is the soul!
Holy is the skin!

Holy!

Acceptance is Not the Same as Apathy!

One day, a couple of years ago, I remember feeling extremes both of desperation and frustrated fury as I struggled to wake up the world around me, but to absolutely no avail. That afternoon, I met with a good friend of mine in a coffee shop. As we chatted and I told him how I felt, he said to me, “let’s face it, we’ve lost.”

Mysteriously, these words, rather than becoming a millstone around my neck, became a liberation. As they sank in, I felt myself able to breathe deeply and relax, to let go.

Later I came across a video about despair in which Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the importance of accepting reality as it is, of the liberation that can come through embracing the worst:

We have to accept that this civilisation can be destroyed, not by something outside, but by ourselves. In fact, many civilisations have been destroyed in the past. So, our mental formation, our minds, are very important. If we allow despair to take over, we have no strength left in order to do anything at all. And that is why we should do anything that can prevent despair to happen, including meditation. So, when we meditate on civilizations that have been destroyed in the past, and if we can accept, then we can have peace, and become a better worker for the environment … We have to accept reality as it is and acceptance like that can bring us peace, and with that kind of peace, we have force … And meditation plays a role. Meditation means to look deeply, and when you look deeply you get insight and with that insight you are free from despair and anger, and you are a better worker for the environment.”

Acceptance is not the same as apathy!

liberation

the old nun sits at her window
coffee in hand, staring out
upon bulbs now bathed in sunshine
bulbs breaking through, soaking in the light
famished babes gulping down their mother’s milk
stretching up for the sun
after winter’s night

the old nun sits at her window
coffee in hand, staring out
out beyond bulbs
out beyond her church now crumbling
out onto these days of ours
empty and old
eroding away into the dust

the die is cast
the axe already fallen

she smiles, remembering that God
made plenty of time
enough time for everything
enough time to be born
to plant
to laugh
to dance
enough time to weep
to cry
to mourn
to die

in no hurry, she finishes her coffee
her gaze gracing those bulbs
remaining resolute in their appointed task
to flower
come what may
whatever the future ask

putting down her coffee cup, she accepts her charge
to become compost, good food
for the next thing
to fertilize an image, a vision
vague, unclear
of bulbs that have grown again
in some far-distant spring
grown in the garden of her church, now crumbled
flowering in a future
not her own

Keep On Keeping On

Matt Carmichael writes, “Hope does not depend on circumstances; when we speak of hoping for this, or hoping that the other, we are confusing hope with optimism. Whereas optimism makes the present more palatable by projecting today’s desires onto the future, hope makes the future bearable by perceiving the eternal pregnancy of the present moment. Hope is a state of mind that arises naturally from a disciplined openness to the vast potential of the moment.”

‘Hopeless hope’ seems to me to be a mystery that paradoxically emerges out from the darkness of hopelessness, holding itself in tension between the closedness of the future and the openness of the present, between the certainty of future defeat and the vast potential of the present moment. It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but “post-pessimistic”, as my friend Jill Mann put it. Rather than giving in to despair, ‘hopeless hope’ faithfully and defiantly refuses to give up, instead throwing itself more intensely into life in all its fullness.

As Karen Baker-Fletcher writes “Hope emerges most deeply and powerfully from struggle. That is its most powerful form. Hope is when you wake up in the morning, set both feet firmly on the ground, and keep on keeping on. Hope is a decision to keep on living and struggling for life.”

becoming body

these days I discover myself
more and more displaced
within these warped contours
of the machine, pulling
me out of place, pulling
me out of time, time
now with no seasons
no rhythms
no day or night
to guide me

all replaced
with one rhythm
one beat
relentlessly reworking my DNA
reforming my flesh and bone
around restless mind
frantic
unimaginably empty
angry
violent
seeping into the deepest pores
of my being

but I do not consent

pacing up and down, captive
tiger wrenched from the forest floor
sorrowed
knowing in my limbs that this is not right
not how things were made to be

and so
these days
I wander city streets differently
softer
slowly becoming body
made of skin that hurts
and bleeds
and longs for touch, fragile canvas
alive with memory, marked
with absence and presence
alien in a foreign land
made not of mud
nor wood, nor streams
but cold hard glass and concrete
tombstone for the ancient rhythms of the earth

my response:

each day to become softer
to become gut
to become heart
to kneel down now to worship
only at the temples of warmth and kindness
to beg for tenderness
vowing defiantly to fill each day
with tears
with laughter
with dance
and to hug my father
before the day is done

To Save Life, We Must Love and Celebrate It Too!

Laughing while weeping is impossibly difficult.

That’s why we need one another, communities where we support one another to do more together than we can do alone. Together we need to rediscover and recreate new rituals which will enable us to process what we are living and to channel it in positive ways. We need to rediscover and recreate times and spaces where lament and celebration go hand in hand, where rage and gratitude are intertwined, where we laugh and weep together.

This is the challenge ahead of us: To not be afraid of the darkness, but to face into it courageously, allowing ourselves to weep together for all that has been lost, is being lost and will be lost, and yet, to laugh together as we do. Our laughter must be as deep as, or deeper, than our weeping. We must celebrate and enjoy life, savouring every breath, tasting every mouthful. We must build the kinds of communities that know how to creatively inter-twine paradoxical dimensions of life in ways that are redemptive, bringing some small ray of light into the darkness of our world.

As Diana Francis puts it, “Of one thing I am certain: that laughter is essential to our spiritual energy. The road ahead may be daunting and at times sad and frustrating, yet there must be joy in the mix or we will never stay the course. To save life we must love and celebrate it too.”

the last days

if these days are the last days
I will prepare my hours
a will and testimony
each breath a gift
each smile a legacy
to pass on to the soil
for the next great ascendency

if these days are the last days
I will let go of each inhibition
lighting a fire
that will rage with its mission
to burn down to ash
every regret and omission

if these days are the last days
each word that I speak
will be my last stanza
that points at the moon
with a finger of wonder
that denounces injustice
with the claws of the lion

roaring out its reminder

that with each breath we are dying
that it takes work to be kinder
and love is all
that we can ever leave behind us

-Sam Donaldson

 

Bios And Links

Sam Donaldson,

is a coach, a mindfulness mentor, poet, and community activist with years of experience of living and working in intentional communities committed to care and constructive social change. After leaving Oxford University with a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and studying for an MA in Post-War Recovery Studies at York, he began what he calls “my adventure of living life off the beaten track,” choosing to live and work in a L’Arche community, managing a house providing care for six adults with learning disabilities. It was during this experience of leadership that ” I began my love affair with personal and organisational growth, as well as beginning my meditation practice and setting out on a creative journey with poetry.” Since then he has  gained experience in a variety of grassroots community settings, including helping found and run the Mad Pride Hull project and helping found and run Quaker Roots, a grassroots peacebuilding group. He practices both Zen and Quakerism, and is currently training for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching, and is in the process of publishing a collection of illustrated poems called ‘This Place’ with artist and poet Mike Sprout. Alongside all this, he loves sport, listening to music, walking in nature and spending quality time with friends and family.

https://makefriendswithyourmind.webnode.co.uk/poetry/

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