For our first episode of the third season, I’m excited to be talking with Mike Albert – an academic, activist and Zen Buddhist trying to discover a balance between radical activism and spiritual acceptance, between struggling for a better world and finding love and acceptance amidst a world in the throes of collapse.
In today’s show, we explore everything from the complexity of human systems and our inextricable connection with (and impact on) the natural world, to the ways in which ritual, activism and relational practices can help us to work with, and derive something transformative from, the ecological crisis that is unfolding.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
Michael Albert is a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University working at the intersection of International Relations, Political Theory, and sustainability studies.
His dissertation develops a theoretical framework drawing from complex systems theory and critical political economy to map the converging crises of the 21st century – in particular the crises of global capitalism, energy, and the earth system – and to illuminate possibilities for world systemic transformation over the coming decades.
His future work will investigate counter-hegemonic movements – including degrowth, ecosocialism, transition towns, and indigenous sovereignty – and consider their potential for creating alternative political economies as the crises of global capitalism and the earth system intensify.
NN: Let’s start with one of the questions that you suggested we explore, which is quite a large one and that’s based on your work and your research and your thoughts. Where do you think we’re headed right now as a species?
MA: Yes. So it is a big one and my work is pretty heavily driven by this question and I try and counter balance it with a sense that I really don’t know and we don’t know. But at the same time we can I think based on the trends that we’re confronting, determined more and less probable scenarios for where we are headed.
And I’m most interested in the period up until 2050, 2060 because I think this is really the critical window these next 30, 40 years that are really going to determine the fate of the planet for millennia to come based on what we do in the next 30, 40 years and will largely shape whether, humans survive in the long term. But I think that it’s not looking very good. I agree with others who have fairly dire prognoses of the situation.
I think that a collapse of civilization, if you had asked me two years ago, I would’ve said collapse is almost nearly inevitable. I was definitely very sympathetic to Jem Bendell’s argument in that regard. We are facing this collision between an economic system based on infinite growth and the carrying capacity of the planet, most with climate change being the most serious symptom of that. And so I … but I think that there’s a couple different ways a collapse could happen and at the end of the day we don’t really know what that means, but it would more or less be an intensification of a kind of slow space show 10 poorly and even process we’re already seeing today with many parts of the world being hit by climate disasters and not really being able to recover.
And so it kind of strikes in this uneven way, but I think that collapsed some sort of major breakdown in the global economy as a result of combined fuel shortages and financial instability, which would propagate the initial shock whether in the energy system or some other sector of the global economy could lead to some kind of major depression in the next decade, which a lot of economists are worried about that. That the 2008 crisis, the crisis management measures adopted. They’re really only staved off the worst but have built up the conditions for an even worse crisis further down the line and it’s a lot of uncertainty there.
But it’s certainly feasible that there could be another major crisis where these authorities will try and implement the same basic crisis management techniques, but they will more or less fail to revive growth and stabilize the financial system as they were in 2008. Then this could mean a prolonged depression, which could involve a major oil shortages. Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty there. A lot of it depends on a forecast of shale production in the U.S whether oil is going to be able to keep rising from the U.S and but if it doesn’t, then that could mean really critical oil shocks to the global economy.
Which would more or less undermine the whole infrastructure, the whole global supply chain infrastructure on which our way of life is currently built. And I don’t think it would be an overnight thing, but it could be a relatively rapid collapse where over the period of a decade or two we will need to dramatically localize, we localize our food and energy systems and economies so that they’re not so reliant on oil based far-flung supply chains to meet our basic needs.
NN: I’m surprised to hear you talk about the next 30 and 40 years because I’ve been feeling a real sense of urgency and imminent uncertainty when I’ve been dipping in to some of the research that people like yourself have been doing and collating and sharing. And this sense of … when we talk about collapse, looking at all the interweaving systems, so like you’re saying about locally grown food, but also micro grids of power in certain communities that may be more or less resilient.
So for instance, I’m originally a Brit now living in Barcelona and I know that in Spain for instance, there’s lots of places which rely on locally grown, irrigated green housed produce, which is probably going to be better placed to serve the needs of people than for instance the UK where 70 or 60% of the food is imported. And so I’m wondering with the 30 to 40 year timeframe, when we’re already seeing so much of the global South already being desperately affected by the impacts of climate change, how come your time span stretches to that? And what are the, some of the things that might make that timeframe shorter?
MA: Yeah. I totally agree with what you’re saying, that we’re seeing these impacts now and they could strike much faster than many of us anticipate. But at the same time, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I do have a global North bias in the sense that’s where I come from. That’s … and it’s closest to my heart and where I live and most of the people I know. And so there is inevitably that bias there.
And yeah, it would definitely look different from someone living in any different part of the world system global South or wherever. But at the same time, I think that it is, especially when thinking about climate change, I think when … like I started with this issue of, possible financial collapse exacerbated by energy shortages because I think this is possibly the most near term major crisis scenario that we’re facing.
But it’s not at all certain. So if this were to happen, then we will be confronting significant climate impacts. We’re approximately at a one degree, 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels as a global average. And some say we might hit 1.5 by 2030 but that would be a relatively fast estimate. By 2050 we might hit 2.4 but again, there’s no, certainty there.
But so when looking at climate change, it’s really once we get to the 1.52 degrees that I think at least countries in the global North are going to start to be stressed much more significantly by climate change. And so understanding, I’m trying to understand the way that even impacts at 1.5 or two degrees, which are often considered to be safe by many or not safe but at least manageable. We can adapt to that.
And of course there’s much and even for low-lying Island States in the global South, many African South East Asian countries, it’s potentially a death sentence for many of these people and two degrees could leave hundreds of more millions of people vulnerable than 1.5 but at the same time I think even countries in the global North that are supposedly resilient to these shocks.
I think once we also look at instabilities in the financial system, the erosion of our energy base, do this process of net energy decline, which scholars like Richard Heinberg and Nafiza Mat had done a really great job analyzing. When you look at the way that these climate impacts, even at 1.5 or two degrees are going to interact with these other ongoing instabilities, then I think that can create an explosive cocktail for major economic unrest.
If there is some sort of economic depression, all of these climate impacts are going to make it that much more difficult to restore growth, to restore investor and consumer confidence. So a collapse could in this way become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s why I think understanding this window in the next 30 years as climate change is going to be intensifying and understanding how it’s going to interact with these other instabilities is important and it is important to recognize that some major near term shocks are likely, but whether it happens in 2020 2030 we need to, I think, think about the different possibilities.
NN: Yeah. Sorry. I feel like I kind of put you on the spot with that one because of course all of this is so uncertain and it depends on all manner of effects happening. I was reading yesterday, this is probably not the thing you want to read before you’re going to bed, but about methane burps and if they start happening, the methane that’s at the base of the ocean and certain places where whether previously glaciers, especially in the Northern part of the world. If enough of this gas escapes and it doesn’t need to be that much, then it could precipitate massive change within months as opposed to within decades. And I was reading this and I’m thinking, fuck, first of all, do I want to be reading this? Because there’s absolutely zero I can do about this. And second of all, if I do have this knowledge, what does it mean in terms of one’s life?
And I think this is where I’m kind of curious to tap into what it means on a human level, on an interconnected living organism level. So us as well as just being a species, being a part of this living world. What does it mean to confront the enormity of this kind of breakdown? And how do we begin to start understanding our role what it means? For instance, I’m going to throw out some questions here, but what it means to come to terms with what’s happening?
What it means to … in the face of all of this uncertainty to live a meaningful life? Like these are some of the questions that are keeping me up at night. And I think also especially given your interests in the fields of things like psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, what disciplines can we draw from to help us unpick some of these questions? Take any of those that you want to start.
MA: Yeah. Sure. I’ll go for it. I’ll start just quickly with this methane issue. I’m not … I’m no expert here. There is a lot of uncertainty on whether this can … like with all these dimensions of our planetary life support systems, there’s tons of uncertainty. Whether this kind of rapid burp that can dramatically rise temperatures and more or less collapse our agricultural systems and civilization as we know, within years that seems to be according to current scientific evidence, it seems to not be the most likely scenario.
It seems more likely that it will be a slower release potentially over centuries. But again, there’s a lot we don’t know. And it seems that in the Earth’s history there have been … there potentially been these massive methane burps and so I think because there are a lot of these near term human extinction, people that Jem Bendell talks about in his paper who come to this certainty again, they … it becomes a different form of uncertainty that all of a sudden this methane is going to kill us all in the next couple of decades. There’s nothing we can do about it.
And it seems like many of them at least have been able to find some positive way to live in the face of that, which is great for them because ultimately it doesn’t … I think it doesn’t … I mean it does matter of course in some way, whether I guess whether we are fucked by methane bombs in the coming decades like that doesn’t matter.
But I mean, more importantly, how do we, live in the face of this predicament? What … like even if it’s going to be a slow release, even if climate change is going to progress at a nonlinear but not rapid acceleration, maybe reaching five degrees by the end of the century, which is more what kind of the upper end of what the IPCC currently predicts. That would still be a catastrophic, end of civilization and life on the planet as we know it.
And so regardless of whether these most dramatic scenarios come true. How do we live with that? For me I found … for me Buddhism and also other contemporary writers who are thinking about the implications of collapse. Jem Bendell is one of them. Also, Carolyn Baker is someone I consider an important teacher for me really writing … writing stuff that I’ve found really inspiring and resonance, which is this idea that collapses really … as a teacher and in some way it liberates us or it can liberate us if we would let it. The specter of collapse, in the sense that it kind of liberates us to let go of a lot of the bullshit that we carry around with us all the time and to really focus on what matters most and to live the kind of lives that we want to live, to not be so concerned about what’s going to be the most promising career path for me.
Like I don’t know what’s going to be happening in 10 20 years, like if … whether getting some kind of stable career that’s going to enable me to build up, my savings and get a pension. When these kind of … when this longterm planning kind of breaks down because of these crises we’re facing, then yeah … the question becomes how do we live now? How do we live the kind of lives that we’re capable of living and really waking up to the wonder of this world and of life?
But then that also requires facing the incredible pain and suffering and grief of this moment. And that’s something that Carolyn Baker writes about in a very powerful way. How do we grieve? How do we use grief as a tool to really wake up and to become more alive to our moments, to overcome the numbing, to collective pain, to the pain in the earth?
That … and even too much of our own pain, that is the product of our culture. And our way of life. And so I know this is a big question, but in general, waking up … opening up to grief, that’s something that has been really a practice for me in the last couple of years that has really changed my life in a positive way. And in many ways I feel more alive and vital than ever. I think largely in part thanks to these kinds of practices. But I know that I’m also going to and that all of us are also going to be facing periods of despair as well if we’re really going to be honestly facing that. But I do … I have developed the confidence that we can face that we can move through it and ultimately come to a more vital and nourishing place where we are more fully alive and more fully human.
NN: It’s really … it’s very touching what you’re saying. And I think also, because I’ve been thinking about this recently, this sense of anticipatory grief. So on the one hand, depending on how much direct exposure we have to the impacts of our actions as a civilization, we can see on videos or in films or footage or documentaries, species being wiped out, fires blazing in parts of the world that we may or may not have visited. So for instance, I’ve spent some time in my early twenties and actually since in the Amazon basin. And so it touches me to see all these places in a desperate situation.
It affects me, but this thing that affects me more on a day to day basis is just the sense of enormity of what’s happening and also what’s to come. And I think it’s difficult on the one hand to want to lean into it without also dipping into the fear of the unknown and generating something like you talk about the spectrum of what we’re experiencing and there’s the reality of what’s happening and then the possible outcomes or possible ways in which this can unfold. And so I’m curious to ask, when you’re meeting your grief, when you’re stepping out of the numbing, what are some of the practices that you engage in. That you find helpful to be able to be with it and to hopefully move through it?
MA: Yeah. It’s a challenging question. I feel like it’s different for everyone in some ways. And I have a friend in particular who I know, she really struggles with this because it’s just so heavy for her. And there’s more of a fear. And I think a lot of people feel this fear, if I go there, I’ll never come back or it’s too much. I’ll be … I’ll drown in this and this is come … This fear has come up for me to, particularly when I’ve dipped into my anger, like my … the anger that I feel towards this culture, towards the authorities that are placing us on this trajectory to the fossil fuel industry.
It’s not … it’s more of a diffuse anger. But when there’ve been practices where I’ve dipped into that and that it’s something that I struggle to feel more regularly but when it has come up during these practices, it feels so intense and I … and it just, this tension, this shaking, consuming me and I have to stop and take what I can manage and feel it dip into it, know that it’s there, touch it, be like, okay, I feel you.
And to not judge it, but then to not necessarily feel like, okay, I have to completely be absorbed in this or overwhelmed by this at this moment. And so Carolyn Baker talks about tie trading in this sense. And the same goes with grief that we open to the best of our abilities in that moment until to let it move us, to let it consume us as much as we can, but then also to be gentle with ourselves and to move through and away from it when we need to.
And I mean this also I think more broadly, in order to be able to feel it in the first place. And this is something very common that’s been emphasized especially by Joanna Macy and all the people like Carolyn Baker who have been strongly influenced by her work, is that really coupling does grief together with gratitude for what is beautiful about life and what we have in our lives that makes them worth living.
That gives us meaning from the simplest daily acts to more profound beauties that we encounter in the world. Really having that as a practice, I think is essential. Without that, there’s really no way I think to also be able to touch the word grief or the anger, these other difficult emotions. And so I think there is a feedback where they can sustain each other and help nourish each other and balance each other having both gratitude to deepen our joy, our connection to what makes life worth living well.
And that I think gives us the strength to touch these more difficult, challenging aspects. You really can’t have one without the other, I think, which is what people like Joanna Macy teach. And so in terms of concrete practices, I’m still learning this stuff myself. Meditation is crucial for me.
I couldn’t do what I’m doing without a regular meditation practice. And then Joanna Macy also describes a lot of rituals in her book, Coming Back To Life. My local extinction rebellion group did this ritual, the what do you … it’s called the Truth Mandala, which gives away to embody the different emotions we carry to express them.
Everyone enters a circle, picks up an object that represents a certain emotion and acts it out and lets it move through them. And for me, this is … and the group is really powerful practice though, enable us to touch these things that we are most often numb to in our daily lives. So this was … this is a powerful practice and a ritual in general is something I became … I’ve become really interested in the last couple of years and I want to learn more and go deeper into that.
NN: Yeah. I love the ability of ritual to take us into these spaces where suddenly so much more becomes possible. Because I think in the scripts of our day to day lives, when we look at how we should behave and what’s socially acceptable and the rest of it. It’s so easy to just remain on these very tight tracks of behavior and everything else that doesn’t fit on those tracks gets thrown off the sides. And so to find these ways, I think especially in groups, because I tend to kind of shy off and do my own thing, whether it’s five rhythms, dancing or singing. I’m a musician as well. So I sing my grief. That’s the only way I can access it really is. But it’s quite a solitary thing. And I think what you’ve just described at some, there’s a power in coming together with others and bearing witness.
And I think also there’s something in that, to … I don’t know how you feel about this. I’m curious what you think about this, but this sense of things being too much and the feeling being too much or dipping into it and overwhelming us and I think my sense is that when we’re witnessed in potentially dipping into an overwhelming state, but we witnessed by others, it somehow contains it. And allows us to have the support to be able to let it flow through somehow as long as the space as well held and it’s facilitated in a compassionate and skillful way.
Which kind of brings me to … I want to ask you about your experience with that, but connected with psychedelics because I know that’s a very powerful tool for helping facilitate. So actually I saw you at breaking convention, which is a fascinating conference when you act … you actually talked a bit about psychedelics and psychotherapy and I would love for you to maybe pull on that thread and talk about how you perceive that to be helpful in situations like these.
MA: Yeah. Definitely. I’m … in terms of practice in using psychedelics, I haven’t experimented with them since, it’s been at least five, six years now. It’s something that I do want to begin to work with again probably in the next couple of years. But yeah, like you said, I think that these kinds of collective rituals, ways of getting in touch with our grief and also our gratitude and as space of healing and reconnection to each other and to the earth. I think these are the kind of spaces where psychedelic use can potentially be very powerful.
Of course, indigenous cultures in the Amazon and elsewhere have had these kinds of communal traditions for a long time. And I think that, there are already similar kinds of traditions cropping up much that I’m drawing from these traditions. Like there are now Iowaska circles that are practice regularly and in New York and other major Western cities.
But I think that we can also … yes, think about how can we create new rituals using these psychoactive techniques. Using these plant medicines. And I don’t have too much … I haven’t thought very deeply about what that would look like exactly, but I do think that psychedelics have this potential. Just there … there’s clearly this unique capacity to really shatter the standard ego narrative that we carry with us and to open us to this deeper sense of self and connection.
And for that to be healing, as current research on psychedelic therapy is showing there needs to be this context, this holding space like you were describing for that to be a meaningful or for that to facilitate healing work as opposed to some kind of further disintegration or further trauma of some kind. And so yeah, how did … how to do that in a way, how to combine, how to learn from these ancient psychedelic rituals while also creating new ones that are relevant for us in this context in a way that can help deepen our connection to the earth, but also deepen our commitment to action and service to do what is most important to exercise our energy in the most effective way possible.
To alleviate suffering for humans and other non-humans. So yeah, I would really like to explore this further in the coming years, but in terms of what these rituals would look like concretely, I’m sure there are other people already doing this. I just don’t know about them. But I’d love to learn.
NN: Yeah. I wonder where, because I’ve read quite a bit of the research around the use of psilocybin in particular for anxiety and fit in end-of-life cancer patients. And I think one of the things I’m aware of as I read this research around the climate breakdown is that it kind of puts into a very new perspective or reckoning with mortality. Both of our own and of any legacy that we might be behind and that of our species and other species.
And I’d never really considered mortality in this way before. And I think that connects me with this psychedelic research, this idea of a cane when confronted with a huge amount of uncertainty and one’s own mortality and grief and the sense of not knowing what’s happening. And we’re not really very good at feeling into lack of certainty.
And we still struggle to find meaning to explain everything that happens around us. And so I think in a situation like this, which is so extraordinarily complex to have tools such as psychedelic plants that we can turn to when facilitated well and whatever other tools you might have probably quite useful. I do wonder about just dropping everything and retraining as a psychedelic therapist or something.
MA: I’ve thought about that too, honestly, especially last year when I was having a crisis where I’m on the job market and just like, Oh man, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this academic path. And the world is collapsing. Is that really…
NN: How I want to spend my time.
MA: Have the most meaningful life? Yeah. I think that we all need to be healers in some way. And it doesn’t mean we all need to train to become psychotherapists. I think that’s at least what I kind of … I came to this kind of conclusion that we all need to develop these skills in some form to be able to help facilitate. And hold space for others in their grieving process, to be there for others when they need it.
Because this is just going to become the more ordinary live reality in which most of us are living in a time of great anxiety and suffering and death and … we’re all going to be called to take on these sort of roles to the best of our abilities. And it’s kind of daunting.
I still can’t … I can’t say that I have the full confidence to really be able to really help someone stabilize and work through when these very difficult emotions come up. So that’s something I’m still learning and … especially once I’m done with this PhD, I really want to engage in more … I don’t know, workshops, exercises, stuff that are focused on that to help develop my confidence to be there to play that role for others.
NN: Yeah. The sense of participation somehow. Because I think it’s one thing doing the research, the research is so important. But then I think about all of the different things that are required by communities to thrive. And it’s a diversity of skills and I think a shared vision. And so I do wonder about this because I’m … so I speak at conferences and I’ve written a book about psychology of one and behavior and I’m currently in Boston, are finishing a three year final degree.
I always at least, actually it’s not a fine art degree, it’s an affiliate method, traditional real estate. And I’m starting there now. I’ve only got two more times left. And I sat thinking, what the fuck am I doing? Oh, when I speak at conferences and I think well and it’s this constant present question, which is when you’re someone who has the freedom, when you have the luck to have the freedom to be able to do things that you enjoy, how does one make the choice as to how those one going school?
So like I’m a firm believer that, I don’t if belief is the right word, but I’ll say it from the point of experience that in my times of deepest trouble, things like turning to music or to dance or to a loved one or to food or the senses turning to my senses are the things that give me the most sense of connection and aliveness.
And so for me, it’s not crazy that one should train in art or music or in theater or dance or whatever it might be. Because it creates kind of these thresholds or it creates a way in which people can overcome their thresholds to journey into a state, which maybe they wouldn’t let themselves experience otherwise.
That somehow is held for them. And so I wonder with that kind of stuff of … from your perspective, creating insight and research and context and information that’s going to be valuable, how would you then take that as a person wanting to participate into serve and to help others? How do you take that and enable people to thrive with the stuff that you’ve already used? How you make it act actionable? I said I’m kind of … this is much more of a conversation than my usual podcast, but I’ve got more skin in the game I think.
MA: No It’s cool. I appreciate it. How do you make it actionable? Do you mean like what kind of knowledge? Like actionable, how do we make the knowledge of say what we’re doing in the climate and what we’re facing? How do we translate that into action to-
NN: I guess maybe it’s more a personal question. So like-
MA: Or are you talking more something else?
NN: As Mike Albert, who’s finishing your PhD in December, how do you then use everything that you’ve learned in January to help?
MA: Yeah. For me, I’m trying to figure that out. Beyond just teaching in university, which I hope to be doing. Engaging in stuff like, activist movements like extinction, rebellion, being part of that, I feel like that’s given me some kind of greater wholeness.
Being able to participate in that and try and be able to communicate through that, the urgency of the situation to the broader public. And to share in a community of other people who share that urgency has been something really meaningful. And I think through that … not just the activism side but also this regeneration, this regenerative culture side, which is really important to extinction, rebellion, creating these grief spaces or these kinds of events where we can discuss these emotions and have these sorts of rituals to help bring each other together to really go deeper into this stuff.
And like you say, they give us a bit more strength or confidence to be able to go somewhere that is otherwise very, very challenging, potentially maybe push us further outside our comfort zone into these dark areas. While feeling confident that the community, the people we’re with are grounding us in some way. And so I guess that’s for me personally, how I am trying to make it actionable.
Because I’m … academia is in many ways the opposite of actionable. I’ve had a part of my … I guess my something of a crisis in the last few years, especially the more I learn about the scale of the climate emergency has been. What am I going to do with this? And I think … for me, I think I’m most drawn to this sort of grief and healing work and being … helping to create spaces that can bring people together to work through this stuff, but also for that also to be something that would feed back into activism.
I think creating these kinds of spaces, something I’d feel very passionate about, which is largely why I feel like I really need to learn the proper skills, the facilitation to be able to help guide people, especially when really difficult things come up and I feel I need to be confident in my ability to help people through that. And … but yeah … or organizing these things in a way that feed back into activism, not keeping the two separate. I think they both can feed back on and enrich each other. I think activism too often lacks that regenerative side, which is something that has really … something … one of the reasons why the extinction rebellion movement has really appealed to me over the last couple of years. I think that, it’s not perfect by any stretch and it’s very diverse.
Many different views and some which are not necessarily in accord with all the ways in which I understand or how I think we should be mobilizing to deal with the crisis. But there is this strong emphasis on the importance of greed or sorry of grief, also greed, but more importantly for the regenerative side. Reconnecting with grief and gratitude as part of the cycle of activism through which we reconnect through us … to ourselves and really what gets us up in the morning, why we’re doing this activism in the first place.
And then using that to strengthen and then feed back into the actions and so to work through this kind of cycle of action release, regenerate back into action. And that’s where I’m at now. I want to be able to keep learning and being able to contribute to that more effectively in the coming years. And then also to inform various local transition initiatives, initiatives trying to develop ways to make their communities more resilient to the coming crises. It’s a way to both build physical resilience while also deepening community, which itself feeds back into resilience. These are the kinds of things that I feel most drawn to in terms of how I’m going to try and make this, translate this into action.
NN: And so I’m curious with these ideas about how you might live moving forward, how has your understanding of the situation changed the way in which you live life now?
MA: Yeah. That’s a tough question. I think in some kind of somewhat crude sense, it’s made me put a lot more focus, put a lot more prioritization on a meditation and the need to have a really dedicated, disciplined meditation practice, both to develop a certain kind of strength, a certain kind of stability and also to touch something within myself. Something that we all have that is really the core of what we are. And it’s something timeless in a sense. It’s a space where there is no gain and loss.
Everything just is. And so to be able to touch that and to not attach to that or seek some escape in that, but just to have that and to know that’s there. I think just the more I learn about this, like what is why I said earlier, I can’t imagine how I’d be able to face this stuff without intense cognitive dissonance or intellectual.
What’s the word? Compartmentalization where I know all these things intellectually, but I’m just not integrating it into the rest of my life and really being able to feel it and let it transform me. I think meditation is really one of the main things that has enabled me to do that more effectively. And so, yeah, it’s really led me to put more emphasis on that. And other than that, I feel like it also, it makes me … perhaps naively, I don’t know, we’ll see. But it makes me a little less stressed about finding an academic job.
Because I feel like, well, if I don’t, then I’ll just go join some … I’ll join an eco village or work on a permaculture farm or do something that is healing and that can help deepen my connection to the earth and to people engaged in like-minded projects and trying to regenerate, heal themselves, the community and the earth.
And so yeah, making me … it just gives me the sense that other career stuff, the ambitions I had about trying to be this famous academic who’s going to have some world changing book. I can’t … I definitely have not totally gotten rid of that by any means. I still carry these dreams, these ambitions, but I think I take them a little less seriously, at least, which I think has been-
NN: And you never know how this.
MA: Healthy for me. No, I just, I think it’s been healthy for me in that sense, to let go that a bit, even though of course. I mean I’m still very conditioned by it.
NN: Yeah. And I think these things, you never know how things are going to play out because, well, we’ve mentioned Jem Bendell a couple of times and he came out with his paper Deep Adaptation last year and it was rejected for inclusion in vaginal that I think he is editing? Anyway and it’s now become one of the most downloaded papers on this subject. And he suddenly become thrown into the limelight for a paper that he thought would probably end his career as it stood.
And it’s just jettisoned him into a whole nother level of authority, which is extraordinary when you think how these things can take us into on unusual parts. I wonder if the people listening, because like with the last two seasons, I would ask with a couple of questions including what’s your greatest hope and your greatest fear, but I want to ask a different question this season and the question is going to be, what one insights or advice would you give to people who are listening to this conversation?
MA: Oh man. I feel kind of strange answering that kind of question. I’m a young person, I’ve much to experience in life and wisdom to acquire. But in terms of any kind of advice I would give … if people are feeling reluctant and afraid about really facing head on the crisis that we’re entering and what that means for us emotionally, materially, and spiritually, if there’s some sense of reluctance, like we were kind of talking about earlier, a sense that, Oh, we’ll be … we can’t handle this. We’ll be overwhelmed by it.
If people are feeling that, then I would just want to try to inspire or encourage them to whatever extent possible to have faith in both themselves and in life, to have some faith that, that we can indeed face this and find renewed strength and meaning unlike what we’ve been able to experience in our lives to date. To really find a new depth through waking up. And this waking up inevitably involves in deep encounter with pain.
But I don’t know how else can one experience life in its fullness? So yeah, I think that would be something I would say. But of course, I’m still in this process and I know that I’m going to face immense challenges along the way, but I have at least developed a deep sense of faith and confidence that it’s not only the only way forward, it’s a way towards some kind of wholeness and satisfaction. I think even admits this crisis that we’ll be facing for the rest of our lives.
NN: I have nothing to add that was peaceful and poignant. I’m actually stumped.
MA: How do you feel about … what has your journey been like in, I guess learning about the planetary crisis and opening to it? How could you summarize what that journey’s been like for you?
NN: I won’t put this part in the podcast actually but … well, I think it started when I was 21 and I went to, and I was very interested in those early days with an earth-based religion. So I was raised Catholic and it didn’t work for me at all. And I started exploring more earth-based religions when I was in my late teens. So things like paganism and then Shamanic work. And I went up to Findhorn, which is this community up in Scotland, which is kind of an intentional living community and I did some shamanic courses there and Non psychedelic.
MA: I would love to go there one day, I’ve never been.
NN: It’s an interesting place. Yeah. It’s an interesting place and I learned quite a bit about myself and about what it means to live in community and what I would be comfortable with and not in terms of structures of people. I’m a bit more of a peripheral kind of person I think in many ways.
Anyway, as part of that, I ended up going to the Amazon to volunteer for this five week … actually it was four weeks, the program was four weeks in the middle of the Amazon basin in Ecuador. And I went by myself and it was to learn my physical skills, just be a body and help in the sustainability movement. There was a place where they’re working with local people working to generate soil and educate people about how better to have sustainable living within the Amazon basin in the forest.
And so I was already kind of interested. And then while I was there, the fourth week that I was there, I was invited to partake in an, Iowaska ceremony, which I didn’t know, I hadn’t really heard of it before. I’d had a bit of experience with, magic mushrooms, which had been very lovely.
And I thought, well, why not? And so I did. And it was a really profound experience. And I remember at that point, it was particular moment of the experience at the beginning where I remember thinking, I can either surrender or this is going to be one hell of a fight. And I remember just thinking, I’m just going to let go. And I did. And it was extraordinary. And I was … it was an extraordinary experience.
And I remember coming back to London afterwards, after this experience South of the jungle and feeling the sense of suffocation of concrete over the … it was a very physical response, which I hadn’t anticipated and I was really quite low for two weeks afterwards going back to London, leafy Northern London, suburban area with a big garden. And I did a whole up project on it.
I was in art school at the time. And over time of course I got used to being back in that environment and my sensitivity dropped. But then more recently I’ve found myself getting called back in that direction. And I think part of it’s to do with coming out to Barcelona where I’m doing a lot more awesome, I’m doing much more music and some getting connected again with the feelings side of things. And then also just being curious. I think if you’re someone who’s curious and you’re asking questions about life, at some point you’re going to hit the big questions and you’re going to hit the big traumas. And I think this is a big trauma.
Yeah. So that’s kind of … and so recently reading this stuff, I’ve realized that if I really want to do anything, I have to feel it first. And I think that grief can be a gateway to love and we can’t change anything unless we’re willing to fight for what we love. And I get very emotional every time I talk about it. But that’s where I’m at.
So now it’s like, okay, how do I find a way to feel the grief, not get overwhelmed by it … and also enjoy the things like simple things like avocado toast, which sounds ridiculous or I don’t know, sitting under a tree and it being a beautiful day and I don’t have to worry about my safety, just there creates like this nostalgia, a preemptive nostalgia for the things I enjoy every day, which makes it bitter sweet, but also very alive, but means I’m almost constantly on the verge of tears. And this has been like this for weeks now. And so I’m not really sure what to do with that.
MA: Yeah, I guess you just got to cry, just the tears flow.
NN: I’ve got walk around. Well, maybe I can walk around and my friends will be like, Nat what’s up? I’m just feeling in the feels.
MA: Yeah. Now I know. I feel that too. I’m a sensitive person like that too and I feel that pressure sometimes of not wanting to or feeling like crying in public. We have to abide by the norms of keeping that private and having a good, happy face in public. But I think that’s like the most, one of the most beautiful things we can do. If we can just, I don’t know, maybe it’ll impact some other person positively. Who knows if they see us crying and being alive and being real and maybe inspire them to think, yeah, I can be real too. I don’t know. It’s just a thought.
NN: I like that thought. It’s funny, I had a moment stay with them. I was talking with one of my very dear friends with whom I … I talk about this a lot when we go down the darkest avenues together and I think having a companion with whom one can do that is really important. And I was chatting with him and I say to him, he’s like, Oh, so how’s it been back this week back at school? I was like, I don’t know. I’m just standing there.
I’m just thinking, what the fuck am I doing? Maybe I should just retrain and do something else, and then just then another one of my friends walks past us like I was thinking exactly the same thing and then it just unlocked this whole conversation and I think even if we don’t all jump ship and become, I don’t know, psychedelic therapists or family constellation counselors or whatever, it’s going to be.
There even just the question of … I think maybe it’s a quality of attention that one brings in or the realness that you’re saying about not having to put on one’s happy face and just say, actually, I’m actually just going to be real, and then it gives other people permission. Maybe that’s enough in the day to day. I don’t know.
MA: I think so. Yeah. I’m still pressing that myself, but I think that’s like another, I don’t know, potential gift that this crisis offers us. It makes it a lot harder to, keep up the facade of our individualized lives and in some ways easier to break through that and … but how we do that in practice, like in the context of, sitting on the subway and with a bunch of other people just in their own heads and not communicating with each other. Can you break through that in practice?