Our subterranean selves

One of the difficulties for us westerners is that we think (and pray) from such a position of privilege.  For many of us, and for many issues, life simply goes on regardless. We can contemplate policies, vote against certain politicians or parties, even rage at them, but for us, regardless of the outcome, life will not be too badly altered. I wonder if part of the anger and fear and grief we feel about climate change, is that suddenly, it all really does matter. Climate change threatens everything we have. In some ways, this is the first time this has ever happened to me.

We perceive this at a very deep level. The thing we think of as "us" or "me" is not quite a single unified being. Many of us know the experience of something happening quite rapidly— a crash, or a fall... and along with that, a kind of slow motion observation and even commentary, by another part of ourselves.  Even deeper than this "observer of me," I have begun to discern a subterranean instinct which scents danger of which the surface me is quite unconscious.  It moves me before I am aware of anything happening. I know before I know. I know even if I am saying something different.

I suggested to a friend this morning that anyone who can read knows at some level that as a nation and a species we are in a very bad place, even if they have not thought about this at any conscious level.  The grief over the Cudlee Creek fire raging here in South Australia as I write, is a different grief to other fires. It is not merely another fire, and not even a bad one. Our subterranean being knows that this fire is the unrolling of the catastrophe. Whatever happens after this, the Adelaide Hills are not the same. We are in a different world.

A mate who lives on the edge of South Australia's cropping lands, and whose whole livelihood is at risk, trolls Facebook with climate change denial. What I see in his words, is his subterranean fear, which knows what is happening, even though he is preventing that part of his self which is closer to the surface from seeing it.

Our subterranean selves are seeing Cudlee Creek and smelling it seep into our houses. These selves know that there is nothing theoretical about any of this. Everything matters.

In the midst of that, I think one of the best things we can do is to own our grief. Weeping, sleeping, worrying, wandering aimless, the exhaustion of the week... all this is the deeper self trying to wake us up, trying to get us to move. Maybe the best thing we can do in a place where one person can do nothing, is to be honest about our fear, and to show people that it is possible to be afraid and to have no answers, but to remain gentle and compassionate anyway. If we won't do this, if we squash down the inner self crying out to us, then we will need to become ever more strident, more angry, and more violent toward others.

But to own this grief is crushingly difficult for it is, finally, real. It is the stripping away of our privilege. Our human vulnerability is totally exposed.

Andrew Prior (December 2019)


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