Listening to the news, and attending Wednesday’s powerful memorial for a murdered son of our community, I participated in what seemed to be a widespread sense that things are coming to a head: The opposing models of humanity represented by Donald Trump (who is exclusively consumed with propping up his power and his inflated image of himself, no matter the cost to others) and by Taliesin Meche (who died standing up to protect others against bigotry) confront us with a choice of what world we wish to live in. Ultimately it's a choice between narcissism in its personal, political, economic, cultural and spiritual forms, on the one hand, and a deeper understanding that we are all in this (meaning the whole shebang) together, on the other: A choice between narcissism and belonging.
As a gentle rain sprinkled blessing upon the event, a palpable determination to make a difference — to stand up together for the world we want — seemed to settle on, and spread through, the crowd.
With a certain fierceness in her voice, Taliesin’s mother, Asha, told the assembled mourners “I promise you Taliesin did not die in vain!” She said that she believed that the world as we know it needed to be “cracked open,” as her mother’s heart clearly was, so that something new could be born.
I believe that one way to talk about what needs to be born is to acknowledge that we — as a species, as a culture, and each in our own heart — are faced with a crisis of belonging. Can and do we belong to the planet, to each other, to ourselves, and, ultimately, in the universe at all? Can we find our meaningful and rightful place at the table of life, a full and respectful citizenship in which we are both fully ourselves, and fully respectful of the rest of existence?
This hope of belonging is opposed by the powerful twin beliefs that we are either too good for, or not good enough for, the rest of existence: That we are, on the one hand, the chosen species unto whom the rest of creation has been given to rule over, to exploit, to use and shape to our purposes, or, at best, to manage. Or — the shadow of that notion — that we are the universe’s prodigal sons, the poison seed, the ungrateful matricidal child who has tried nature's generosity to the breaking point, and is on the verge of being expelled from the web of life: a failed evolutionary experiment.
Both of these beliefs cut us off from finding our true communion and place within the whole.
It appears that we, the presently living, are on this planet together at a time when the cost of how we have so far gone about living in this world has become clear and unsustainable, and where we together face nature’s stern invitation to discover something new.
Unlike the rocks and the rivers and the eagle and the slime mold, our belonging in the universe is not automatic and unself-conscious, but is mediated by the relatively recent experiment that is our uniquely human consciousness, and by the historically accumulated values, world view, social structures and habits of our culture.
Finding our belonging in the universe requires us to know ourselves at a new level: It requires us to deepen our understanding of the gifts and pitfalls of our human consciousness, including our capacity for exploitation and catastrophic destruction, and our capacity to love and heal each other; It requires us to transform social structures of exploitation into instruments of cooperative empowerment. And, most of all, it requires that we take part in the birthing of humanity’s deep potential to be a constructive and beautiful member of creation.
Despite our human vulnerability to experience ourselves as separate from the rest of creation, and thus to find ourselves in opposition and conflict with all that we consider “other” than ourselves — whether it be other individuals, other tribes, other species, other religions, or the forces of nature themselves — it is precisely our deep longing to participate in a greater communion that gives evidence of our potential to do so. Our longing is the expression of an ancient knowing that we are, in fact, literally, truly and inescapably a part of the greater communion of life, and thus provides the tenuous thread, the trampled and overgrown, but still discernible, trail through the woods, that can guide us back to our true belonging. Our longing is in us and points the way home.
— Bob Heilbroner lives in Talent. He is a former '60s and '70s activist and editor of Liberation News Service, earned a graduate degree in the economics of natural resources from U.C. Berkeley in the 1980s and has provided mental health counseling in the Rogue Valley since moving here 23 years ago.