When I first encountered Deep Adaptation over a year ago, it was a welcome revelation. I was suddenly relieved of any ambiguous interpretation of the extreme climate data appearing everywhere. I could stop pushing the rock uphill. I was immediately diverted to a more productive and no longer dissociated mind-set: facing reality and acting accordingly. Deep Adaptation strips away the avoidance, the filters of hope and fear. I could put my full attention on the inner (and outer) work of resilience and restoration, taking a slower and deeper journey into simplifying and extending myself to live a version of small-scale sustainability. Under current circumstances, this seems an obvious imperative.
Deep Adaptation has been criticized as a regression into despair, doom and disengagement. But I never saw it as a refuge of defeatism, more like a dispassionate assessment of reality, which in itself is clarifying and becomes a motivation. In fact, parallel to this shift in attention, is the appeal of post-activism— a walk into the desert beyond the last swimming pool. It’s a cognitive jailbreak from reflexive reliance on whatever is the latest version of reality. It’s an escape from human centrality, an intention to tend the wounds we have inflicted on our world, on ourselves, by presuming humans alone are the drivers of social change. It’s a turn toward recovering and redefining community away from the parameters of Progress. Conventional activism is an attempt to escape the prison (a diffractive prism?) of prevailing conditions. How is it that despite all our efforts, we largely remain in that prison, redefining ourselves over and over according to terms we can barely grasp. We are like fish trying to find water, immersed in it so deeply, so completely that we can only speculate about its nature. Post-activism is somewhere beyond all of that. Indeed, it’s even a redefinition of belonging.
At the same time, as my health drives my attention, my sense of conventional (inner or outer) agency ebbs. To a degree, my definition of agency still resides in the conventional realm. If I tried to unravel this mystery, I could easily turn to despair and fatalism. As my world meets personal limits, I recall a vast spaciousness of mind, always accessible, allowing the boundaries of ego to soften and loosen, reconsidering influences steering life far beyond any imagined boundaries I might normally assume. I puzzle over how the entire course of life is preparing me for its closing chapters. Or whether, more likely, there is no such thing as preparation, only incrementally deepening encounters with the truth of our material limitations, combined with a persistent looking beyond and through appearances. Clearly, there are still revelations to be had. That, revelation, if I could name a clear intention governing all of it, is what it shall be for me. Making a commitment to a slower, smaller lifestyle, even independent of constraints already imposed by COVID, requires opening to revelation from sources not previously considered. I have found these in familiar sources as well as in new voices propagating in online communities, connecting in ways we might not have explored if COVID had never come along.
In 2020, we entered territory never previously occupied by humans—multiple catastrophic events (COVID, climate change and Trump) arresting, rupturing and reversing the entire course of human progress, stopping us in our tracks—a massive volcano erupting and darkening the global sky, like Nuclear Winter. We stand at the precipice of Peak Humanity. In some ways we’re already on the downside, heading south. The possibility of arresting the inertia of the Industrial Growth Machine is a small sliver of light barely escaping the massive black hole of Business As Usual.
There’s further revelation—and recovery—in realizing the depth and nature of our entanglements with the natural world and with each other. We are arrested by boundaries suddenly becoming much softer than we realize, mutable and transient, becoming more like filters, permeable and highly specific, less foreboding. COVID is a messenger of our porosity, a call to examine our intimate relations with the micro-biome, ecologies interrupted and thrown into chaos.
In this respect, COVID is also more of a revelation than any previous fugitive organism because of its deadly nature and global impact, bringing us crashing back to earth from our drunken binge of extraction, acquisition and destruction. Investors and futurists may call it a Black Swan, but it’s more than that. A more significant event propagating greater collapse-awareness could not have been engineered by any deliberate effort. We are now glimpsing a version of the future and being clearly shown what measures will be necessary to respond to similar events in addition to whatever the climate has in store for us.
To enter any recovery, all of these revelations must be digested. Also revealed are our capacities of trust, compassion, courage and a new purpose. It’s time to recover, dust off and refurbish these exiled capacities to embody our reliance on each other, to remember we do not exist outside of relationship. Nothing is itself, by itself. Nothing exists independent of relationship. As Zach Bush mentioned in a recent interview, COVID has awakened and spurred us to move from an adrenaline society to an oxytocin society, restoring the inner landscape, awakening to reciprocity. This is what we are finding in the streets, online, in wider collaborative initiatives. Every awakening is a recovery, stimulating a desire for more.