The story of Pandora’s box has always been a favorite of mine, ever since I was little. Pandora was so curious. She just had to open the box. She just had to. And when she did, she let out all the bad things in the world: suffering, pain, war, famine, pestilence, betrayal….but she also let out one good thing: she let out hope.
I think when we start talking about the present and the future of the world-its kind of like being inside Pandora’s Box. It seems that more and more reports come out, more and more news comes out, and the longer that things go on, we keep being surrounded by all the bad things. Ten or fifteen years ago, perhaps these things could be ignored. But today, I don’t think there is any more time for that. The reports, like the recent National Climate Assessment, don’t often offer a lot of solutions, just a lot of facts about where we are and the harsh present and even harsher future we face. The reports, combined with global inaction on issues of critical importance, the backpedaling by world leaders to set hard limits on carbon emissions, to stave off ecological collapse–we are in that Pandora’s box, the box full of bad things. I’m teaching a sustainability studies class for the first time in five years, and even among the young, 18-22 aged population, there is a considerable shift. When I taught a very similar course 5-7 years ago, students were upbeat and ready to engage. When I’m teaching it this term, students are less empowered, more quiet and somber.
I think one of the most important things we can do as druids is maintain hope–hope about our own lives, hope about the future. Today’s post offers some tools: thinking tools, processing tools, and tools that offer us new perspectives and ways of engaging with today–in a way that empowers us, that gives us ways to act, and helps us get into a better space about it all, rathe than being demoralized about the future. If you haven’t read earlier posts in this series, you might want to do so to see where we’ve come from and where we are heading: druidry for the 21st century, druidry in the Anthropocene, and psychopoming the anthropocene.
A Thinking Tool: Sphere of Influence vs. Sphere of Concern
A framework that I think is really important for druidry and other action in the age of the Anthropocene is the Sphere of Influence vs. the Sphere of Concern tool. This framework is adapted from the work Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but I think its a *really* useful tool for personal empowerment and hope in the Anthropocene. The graphic below shows the difference between a person’s circle of concern (which could be global and long-term) vs. a person’s circle of influence (which is local and immediate).
Your Sphere of Concern is what you are concerned about–and often, due to media and the Internet, this is often global. For all of the potential benefits that a globalized world may offer, it creates an enormous sphere of concern, which given the world’s predicament, is psychologically really challenging. News is almost always outside of our Sphere of Influence, but exposure to the news encourages us to have a huge Sphere of Concern. We have very little power to leverage change in systems that are large and distant–cutting down of rainforests, the plight of polar bears or whales. This creates a sense of general disempowerment, which can lead to apathy or frustration. However, before modern globalization, people mostly were concerned with what was around them. News was local and quick, news from afar took a lot of time to arrive, if it arrived at all. Local concerns were often able to be acted on by local people. One’s sphere of concern was probably a lot smaller–likely, for many, within one’s sphere of influence.
Today, despite many of us having an enormous Sphere of Concern, we have a fairly limited Sphere of Influence. A Sphere of influence is what you have power to control: and this usually revolves around the spaces we find ourselves in frequently: our homes, our daily lives, our workplaces, our communities, our local governments, our families, our spaces where we spend time. When we are bombarded by news from Pandora’s box, we feel powerless because the things we want to change, the big things, are not really changable by individuals (they can be changed by collective action).
I think it’s really important to frame these things when we are talking about hope and change over time. This framework offers us a powerful thinking tool: recognizing the difference between our Sphere of Influence and our Sphere of Concern (and maybe, making modifications so that our Sphere of concern is closer to our sphere of influence–that which we can control). I have found that using this framework helps give me a better sense of where I should invest my energy and time: in those things that I have influence over, in those things where my efforts will produce results.
A Feeling Tool: Giving Voice and Allowing Processing Time
As I shared in the first post on this series, the reality of the Anthropocene can be overwhelming, intimidating, or even cause distance and withdrawal, apathy. Joanna Macy’s beautiful work Coming Back to Life offers a lot of discussion of the importance of not letting ourselves get into an apathetic or disempowered state. Apathy is the root of disengagement, and we need people in this day and age ready to engage and face some of these challenges.
Everything that is happening in the world, like climate change, is really hard. I’d argue it’s doubly hard for druids who really love land because we hold the land sacred, and so much of it is under threat. People have different emotional responses to what is happening, but one of the most common and destructive is apathy–trying not to feel, because feeling is too hard. Ignoring it, not letting ourselves feel. Given this, if we are going to return to feeling things about the world and the future, we need good spaces to process our feelings, safe spaces. We can do this in the context of our spiritual practices, like druidry.
Once we’ve dealt with some of these feelings, we can move forward with actions and empowerment–we can turn our own lives and influence the lives of others into creating the present and future we want to see. We can offer hope.
Macy’s book offers a number of rituals for individuals and groups that allow us to give voice to feelings, to process our feelings, and allow us space to move forward. One of her rituals which works particularly well in a druid setting is called the Council of All Beings. Beings help us process and give voice to what is happening now. This is a particularly powerful ritual where people prepare to speak on behalf of animals, plants, and natural features and give them voice, while others take turns listening as humans.
Another one of Macy’s rituals that we’ve adapted for druid ritual work is a 7 generations ritual. People form two circles. The ones on the outside are today’s humans. The humans on the inside are future humans, 7 generations from now. Today’s humans speak about everything they are concerned about; the future humans listen, and then, offer hope. It is a very powerful way to process and think about what is happening now.
This kind of processing can also take place in the context of spiritual practice: talking through things with others, engaging in regular spiritual journaling, and discursive meditation are all ways that we can process emotions.
I think the key thing here is recognizing if we are going to be effective and productive, we need emotional processing tools–we need to recognize that these feelings are important and necessary, and we need to work with our emotions regularly.
An Action Tool: Permaculture
Now that we’ve considered thinking tools and emotional processing tools, we can come to tools for action. There are lots of tools out there that encourage us towards various kinds of action; my tool of choice is permaculture. Permaculture offers a complete system of planning and action; it is a design system that teaches us to use nature, and work with nature, to regenerate and build ecosystems, gardens, and communities. Through three powerful ethics (people care, earth care, and fair share), design principles, and an emphasis on ecologically-rooted techniques, I think tools like permaculture can help us go from thinking about a problem to action. One of the most important philosophies in permaculture is that humans can be a force for good (not just harm) and that we can always leave a piece of land in better shape than we’ve found it.
I’ve written pretty extensively about permaculture on this blog. For an introduction to permaculture ethics, see here. For the principles of permaculture, see here, here, and here. For background on permaculture and ways of thinking about it, see here and here. . For an example of how permaculture can be used in urban and suburban areas, see here, here and here. For an example of a five-year permaculture design on my old homestead, see here. Books I recommend are Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemingway and Rosemary Marrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. You can do a free online permaculture design certificate, which will immerse you in many good things, through https://openpermaculture.com/. There are lots of other ways to learn–check it out!
When I did my permaculture design certificate in 2015, which I did through Sowing Solutions at Sirius Ecovillage in Massachusetts, I had already been practicing permaculture for many years. The PDC helped me really leverage a lot of skills I picked up here and there into a cohesive whole and gave me the design skills to really plan and execute a variety of projects. More importantly though, it empowered me. It was probably one of the most empowering things I ever did. It gave me hope, it gave me real tools, and it showed me that the solutions to many problems were right in my hands (the problem is the solution is a permaculture principle). If everyone practiced permaculture, we’d have a very, very different world.
The last few weeks have explored a lot of topics with regards to Druidry for the 21st century. Not all of it has been particularly easy to digest or think about, but I think if we are going to practice nature spirituality in the age of the Anthropocene, it is necessary for us to have these kinds of conversations. I will keep returning to this topic throughout the year! I hope this series has given you some food for thought, if nothing else–and some tools for empowerment and change.