Refuge: A Definition and Two Spiritual Exercises

One million Armenians were forced to leave their homes in Anatolia in 1915, and many either died or were murdered on their way to Syria.

In this post I explore the definition of the word ‘refuge,’ and describe two spiritual exercises that arose out of that exploration. The word ‘refuge’ can be used as a noun or a verb. The following quotation gives the noun definition as found in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged):

1 ref∙uge ‘re(,)fyüj. esp. before a syllable-increasing suffix -_fyә’j n -s [ME, fr. MF, fr. L. refugium, fr. refugere to run away, avoid, escape, fr. re– + fugere to run away, flee — more at FUGITIVE] 1: shelter or protection from danger or distress < seek ~ in flight > < take ~ in the home of a friend > < a house of ~ > 2a: a home for those who are destitute, homeless, or in disgrace b: a sanctuary for birds or wild animals c: a mountain hut or cabin erected to serve as sleeping quarters for mountaineers d: a safety zone for pedestrians crossing a street in heavy traffic: SAFETY ISLAND 3: a means of resort for help in difficulty : RESOURCE < patriotism is the last ~ of a scoundrel – Samuel Johnson > < The ivory tower . . . as a place of ~ from unpleasant reality – H. N. Russell >

As I contemplated the five verbal examples embedded in this definition; with their deep roots and entanglements, their interior groans and sighs, and their uncertain habitations and delights; I sensed within me a welter of feelings and impressions; some strong, some weak, but all profoundly human.

  • Seek refuge in flight
  • take refuge in the home of a friend
  • a house of refuge
  • patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
  • The ivory tower . . . as a place of refuge from unpleasant reality

As I continued my contemplation of the full definition, two spiritual exercises came to mind—exercises for me to carry out over the next few days:

Spiritual Exercise #1: Meditate on the five verbal examples and write a paragraph expressing how they touch on the life I am now living.

Spiritual Exercise #2: Explore the three cross-references appearing in the definition―FUGITIVE, SAFETY ISLAND, and RESOURCE—and write a paragraph expressing how they touch on the life I am now living.

NOTE: In an upcoming post, I will include some notes on the nature and character of ‘spiritual exercise’ as I intend it in this context and throughout this blog.

We Are All Refugees Now.

Greeks fleeing the Destruction of Psara in 1824 (painting by Nikolaos Gyzis).

“Our Gallant Ship” is now entering its second year. During its first year the focus was broad and comprehensive, covering climate science, politics, mitigation, activism, population, and much more.

In this second year the focus will be much tighter and will take the title of this entry as its central existential focus and reality: We are all refugees now.

The Only Courage Required of Us

In Pierre Hadot’s little book, “The Present Alone is Our Happiness,” he says: “I have always conceived of philosophy as a transformation of one’s perception of the world.” This sentiment is one I share with him, in philosophy but also in art. The kinds of art that interest me are those that aim at just this same conception. They are “conceived as a transformation of one’s perception of the world.” My own life-long work in art has had this aim and goal.

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010)

As “Our Gallant Ship” enters its second year, this is the goal I would like to set out front. During its first year, 2019, I published much about climate change, climate science, and all the various political and social dynamics that surround and (often) envelope it. But, along the way, back in May, something happened to me, something spontaneous and on an altogether different level of experience. This experience was so strong that, for a number of months, I did not know what to do or how to proceed. So I paused. I paused for a long time, sensing that, to be honest with myself, I needed to withdraw until I had a better understanding of how to move forward.

Though I have spoken about this with very few people, I will now speak about it openly. Beginning with my next post, I will explore many of the issues that have occupied my thoughts and explorations over the past few months.

The following words from Rainer Maria Rilke speak directly to the point:

We must accept our existence as completely as possible; everything, even what is inconceivable, is to become possible in it. Basically, the only courage required of us is to be face up to the strange, the marvelous, and the inexplicable. . . . The fear of the inexplicable has impoverished not only the existence of the individual, but also the relations of person to person, it has taken them away from the river of possibilities, to shelter them in a safe place on the bank.” Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, August, 1904

From this day forward, the winter solstice of 2019, I will begin to steer Our Gallant Ship into this deeper water. I will explore how, given the existential crisis we now face, we can learn to “accept our existence as completely as possible,” and allow “everything, even what is inconceivable” to “become possible in it.”

What if we forgave everyone?

Of all the essays I’ve read on the present climate chaos, Catherine Ingram’s Facing Extinction is one of the best, and perhaps most consistent with my own point of view. This is partly because it addresses the related issues of population growth and human frailty in conjunction with climate change. Though it is a long read, around 15,000 words, it is worth all the time you can to give it.

The essay is divided into ten sections: Dark Knowledge, Courage, Distraction and Denial, Social Unrest, Over-Population and Co-Extinctions, Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars, The End of Legacy, No Blame, Grief, and Love. As well, she ends the essay with a number of ways of dealing with all this: Find your community (or create one); find your calm; release dark visions of the future, and pace your intake of climate news; be of service; be grateful, and give up the fight with evolution. I offer one quote from each section:

Dark Knowledge

“Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way. But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solutions to be found. What we now need to find is courage.”

Courage

“Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear. There is another kind of courage. It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love “even though the world is gone.”

Distraction and Denial

“You may find yourself in the company of people who seem to have no awareness of the consequences we face or who don’t want to know or who might have a momentary inkling but cannot bear to face it. You may find that people become angry if you steer the conversation in the direction of planetary crisis. You may sense that you are becoming a social pariah due to what you see, even when you don’t mention it, and you may feel lonely in the company of most people you know. For you, it’s not just the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant on fire in the room, and yet you feel you can rarely say its name.”

Social Unrest

“We now see large regions of the world that are no-go zones. Failed states, where life is cheap and barbarism reigns. Huge swaths of Africa are now lawless and controlled by armed and violent men and boys roaming the countryside in gangs, engaged in despicable acts too sickening to write. The Middle East is much the same as are parts of South America. All of these areas are enduring severe drought. As professor and journalist Christian Parenti said in an interview with Chris Hedges, “How do people adapt to climate change? How do they adapt to the drought, to the floods? Very often, the way is you pick up the surplus weaponry and you go after your neighbor’s cattle or you blame it on your neighbor’s ideology or ethnicity.”

“It is a mark of immaturity to be unable to delay personal satisfaction for the chance at greater wellbeing for all at a later date. And it is yet another wearisome example of why we humans are in the mess in which we find ourselves. We see it throughout human history. Greed is not new to modern times. We can easily understand the greedy impulse as most of us are afflicted with it. Perhaps the evolutionary imperatives from ancient times would have had no use for delayed gratification since servicing immediate needs often meant the difference between life and death. However, we can now see that being enslaved to our base desires and impulses is contraindicated to our survival. Seeing disintegrations occur in the developed countries gives a glimpse as to what societal and economic breakdown will look like when there are widespread food shortages everywhere and when the infrastructures, including the electric grids, become spotty, too costly to maintain, or are no longer working.”

Over-Population and Co-Extinctions

“According to many scientific studies, some of the inevitable outcomes of overpopulation are severely polluted water, increased air pollution and lung diseases, proliferation of infectious diseases, overwhelmed hospitals, rising crime rates, deforestation, loss of wildlife leading to mass extinctions, widespread food shortages, vanishing fish in the oceans, superbugs and airborne diseases along with diminished capacity to treat them, proliferation of AIDS, less access to safe drinking water, new parasites, desertification, rising regional conflicts, and war. As astrobiology professor Peter Ward explained in a story on the BBC, “If you look at any biological system, when it overpopulates it begins to poison its home.”

Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars

“Energy and industrial technologies have destabilized and poisoned our atmosphere and waterways. Our cyber technology has created a global industry of online financial theft, child pornography and predation, identity theft, illegal drugs, and many other criminal endeavors made possible through the internet. War technologies have made us the most effective killing species ever in history. In the 20th century, the deadliest in history thus far, an estimated 231 million people –most of them non-combatants–died in war and conflicts. High tech weaponry in the 21st century is even more capable of large scale death and destruction at the push of a button from thousands of miles away.”

As Joanna Macy told me in an interview more than thirty years ago, “We think technology will save us. Technology got us into this mess.”

The End of Legacy

“There is a cognitive dissonance that takes getting used to when you realize there is no need to consider how you or your name will be remembered in the future. Not only that, your interest in future projections about life begins to fall away. You may marvel at how many personal conversations with people you know or news items from around the world assume that human life carries on indefinitely. You may find it difficult to hold interest in these conversations and stories, as though you chanced upon a madman on a street corner earnestly proclaiming his grand plans for the future when it is clear he is hallucinating. You don’t hang on his every word.”

No Blame

“In a recent blog post, writer James Kunstler proposed a pithy theory of why humans chose each step of our path in history: “It just seemed a good idea at the time.” We plunged forward with each new way of doing things, each new invention, because it made life easier at the time. There was no intention to destroy ourselves. On the contrary, for most of the time since the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that life was getting better for greater numbers of people. With medical advances, we wiped out most of the contagious deadly diseases, controlled infections, and greatly extended life expectancy. We built transportation capabilities that allowed us to travel to the far ends of the earth in a day and thereby learn of other cultures while on their own turf. And then we hooked ourselves up to each other in a world of instantaneous communication, which has been a whole lot of fun. But we didn’t factor in the cost of all this bounty as we built modern civilization.”

Grief

“Many of us are also in anticipatory grief; that is, in the period leading to full extinction, we are aware of how hard it will be for those who are already living marginally, such as the nearly one billion people who are now under nourished and who must search for food each day. These numbers will increase and food and fresh water will become impossible to find. Even here in a rich country, I know many people who live month to month, barely making the rent, foregoing all but the most basic necessities. They are considered the poor in our First World countries, and they are also growing in number. In the United States alone, many of those who were formerly middle class now live in their cars or in homeless shelters or on the streets. Even those in situations of abundance are often relying on jobs that are destined to disappear or on bank accounts and investments that will likely disappear as well. After all, much of the so-called wealth of the privileged is simply numerical digits floating on cyber screens.“

Love

“Left to its own conditioned patterns, our minds get into all kinds of trouble (unless one was very lucky in one’s conditioning, which is rare). Developing the habit of re-directing your awareness when your mind is lost in fear or troubling stories induces confidence along the way. Your attention starts to incline toward ease more frequently. You find that you can choose calm. You can choose gratitude. You can choose love.”

Visit Catherine’s web site HERE. And a YouTube audio version of the essay (read by the author) HERE.

Introducing an Important New Web Site: George Monbiot’s “Natural Climate Solutions”

An important new web site was launched by George Monbiot today. It is one of the most impressive and encouraging efforts I have seen. The Guardian published an excellent summary of it HERE. I have included links to all the Natural Climate Solutions Allies on the right-hand side bar of this blog. Please take some time to explore Natural Climate Solutions and its accompanying references. And don’t miss Monbiot’s Guardian Opinion piece HERE.

“Today, a small group of us is launching a campaign for natural climate solutions to receive the commitment and funding they deserve. At the moment, though their potential is huge, they have been marginalized in favour of projects that may be worse than useless, but which are profitable for corporations. Governments discuss the climate crisis and the ecological crisis in separate meetings when both disasters could be addressed together. We have set up a dedicated website, produced an animation and written a letter to governments and international bodies signed by prominent activists, scientists and artists.”

George Monbiot

“Our aim is simple: to catalyse global enthusiasm for drawing down carbon by restoring ecosystems,” said Monbiot, who has written a report for the website. “It is the single most undervalued and underfunded tool for climate mitigation.”

Damian Carrington


A Strange Kind of Consolation

Chris Hedges: “Revolution is not about catharsis. It is not about joining a masked mob to “get off” on property destruction. That is protest as adolescent narcissism. It celebrates a self-destructive hyper-masculinity that also fuels many in the police and military. It alienates those within the power structures who, if revolution is to succeed, must be pried away from defending the ruling elites.”

“Yes, our cries were not heard. Yes, it may be futile. But the fight is what makes us human. It gives us dignity. It affirms life in the face of death.” Read more . . .

Do you want to cut-back or even eliminate single-use disposable packaging?

If you are interested in cutting back or even eliminating single-use disposable packaging, read the following promotional material from a new venture that begins this spring in the United States and France. Though it’s product range is limited, I believe it has the potential for rapid growth and rapid increase in the number of products offered. Here is what they say:

Loop is a circular shopping platform that transforms the packaging of your everyday essentials from single-use disposable to durable, feature-packed designs. Not so long ago, the milkman delivered reusable bottles and later picked them up to be refilled.

“Loop is the milkman re-imagined – honoring our past from a modern perspective. A revolution in design from your favorite brands – your everyday essentials are now available in durable, functional packaging that’s beautiful enough to display. No more hassle from trash and recycling – simply drop your used empties back into the Loop Tote and schedule a free pick-up from your home. Instead of getting a box every month, we’ll automatically replenish the products you send back so that your favorites are available as you need them, in the first subscription model that manages itself.

“Loop hygienically cleans and sanitizes the empty packaging you send back so they are ready for reuse, instead of ending up as waste after a single use. The Loop tote is a breakthrough zero-waste delivery system that eliminates wasteful single use shipping materials (say goodbye to that stack of cardboard boxes and ice packs). Loop is launching in Spring 2019 in the United States and France.”

Thanks to my daughter Michelle for pointing me to this link.