Grieving in Silence

When I was in my early twenties I never thought that in my lifetime I would see the death of the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world.  I never thought I would see the temperature of the North Pole reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, or gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never thought I would read about scores of species dying en masse, washing up on shores, or going extinct every single day.   I never thought that plastic in the seas would outweigh marine life by mid century, or huge swaths of forest succumb to pine beetles and blight.  Now twenty years on I have witnessed all of that and more, and most of it has happened in just the last few years. I often find myself being overwhelmed by an enormous tide of grief that envelopes my entire being; and it doesn’t countenance being ignored.  But I live within a society that values denial over truth.  And lately I have begun to relate more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of the status quo.   I realize that many of us feel this deep sense of sorrowful terror; but many more can do little more than cry out in that private, interior space that our culture has consigned us to.
The Scream by Edvard Munch.Many traditions have a public means for displaying private grief.   Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Today much of that has been rejected as being too morbid or depressing Perhaps part of this normalization is due to our evolutionary heritage; but certainly the distractions of our industrialized culture have numbed most of our senses and reinforced the myth of our separateness from the natural world.  How else can the absence of outrage or public lamentation regarding the unfolding ecocide be explained?

I hope to extract myself as much as possible from the din of industrial civilization.  But for now I, like almost everyone else I know, go about my day in the routine that has been assigned to me by society.  I get up in the morning, take the drugs that keep my blood pressure in check, eat something processed, wash up and merge into the busy and confining passages that define modernity.  Living within this labyrinth discourages any introspection. There simply isn’t enough time, ever.  Thoughts about our place in the universe, or our mortality, or the meaning of it all are summarily dismissed in this culture.  In the media or in popular entertainment this subject is usually only included as a form of comic relief.  “What is the meaning of life?” has become the crux of jokes.  We are chided or ridiculed for thinking too much and sent to a cubicle to perform as a useful cog in the machine of industry; and then to another cubicle to shop for items we are told we need or that will “enhance” our lives, and then to a cubicle that we are charged money to live in and sit in front of yet another cubicle that tells us what to think, how to feel, and what is important.

Cubicles via The Repetitive Swan.This is the only way that it can all work.  It is the only way that the natural world can be compartmentalized and commodified.  It is the only way that the killing ideologies of militarism, nationalism and capitalism can go unquestioned.  Now, of course, we can see it has worked all too well as we march head long into extinction with nary a concern.  But the tower of mythology that supports every aspect of industrial civilization is beginning to crumble beneath the weight of its own hubris and apathetic indulgences.  We ignored the planet’s boundaries, and now those boundaries are closing in on us fast.

The world will look very different in just a mere decade or so.  This is not a prophetic declaration, it is a certainty that is easy to demonstrate.  Our leaders, when they are not in outright denial, reinforce the absurd notion that we still have plenty of time to stop climate change even as it is abruptly shifting before our eyes.  And sustainability is nothing more than a lie of consumer capitalism.  What, after all, is worth sustaining?  A societal model that requires an economy that must grow regardless of the ecological and social costs?  Or that tolerates mass species extinction?  Or that allows for endless military aggression to ensure a constant flow of minerals and fuel to produce objects which will end up in a landfill or in the ocean for eons?  If depression and neuroses are companions of cancer and heart disease in this model of sustainability, is this really worth preserving?

The stark truth is that there is little collective will to change the path we are currently on as a species.  Its trajectory is solidly towards collapse of the biosphere.  And even if monumental changes were implemented tomorrow by the powers that be it would not stop the seas from rising, or stop the process of ocean acidification, or resolve the plastic soup that churns at its center, or solve the never ending meltdown at Chernobyl or Fukushima, or prevent the release of methane from the seabed, or stave off famine for millions of people, and bring back thousands of species now gone forever.

Greetings from California by Joe Webb.I realize that this entire essay is antithetical to the zeitgeist of interminable optimism that defines our age.  In truth, I gave up trying to fit into this model a long time ago when I saw it as merely a kind of collective psychosis.  I write because, selfishly, I must.  It is my silent scream outward from a dark, interior pain of alienation, frustration and sadness.  I am not looking for a magic elixir or a pharmaceutical or an intervention to medicate or block out this pain either.  I want to feel it because it exists and because this is a culture that I wish to separate myself from; and I think we must all feel it and show this publicly while we still have time.  I don’t think that doing any of this will spare us the calamities that appear to be waiting for us just down the road, but maybe it can help us reclaim a sense of meaning to it all that has been robbed from us by an insipid, manic and brutal system of mindless consumption, and vacuous distraction.

I see what is unfolding and I cannot help but feel great sorrow.  My scream of anguish, though silent, can no longer be inward.  I am in mourning.  I grieve all that has been and will be lost.  And I will place a black wreath upon my door and wear a black cloth around my arm for all the world to see, not because I am brave, but because I simply cannot grieve in silence anymore.

Kenn Orphan  2016


28 thoughts on “Grieving in Silence

  1. First, please stop taking the blood pressure medicine. Develop a dietary and exercise methodology that will make it unnecessary. I suggest going to regular yoga classes. As it has done for me, it will better your health and your mental fortitude. Then, do carry on.

    Now that I’ve said that… I’m 47 years old. I’ve seen the world change, I was horribly depressed when I was in my early 20s, and I’m vascillating now between climate despair and the quiet need to carry on. I have 2 children, I love the people I know as well… we do need to carry on, and in whatever way possible lay the groundwork for the future, even if there is a strong chance that future will be an uninhabitable, out of control climate… We often forget that our ancestors also faced uncertainty whether their efforts would leave the world any better. As the best of them did, we also should do, and be faithful that no matter what, we try.

    Sio, my only comfort is the land I tend where I don’t mow the grass, where I let the trees grow, and where I encourage the animals to live. It’s only a handful of acres, if I could care for more, I would.

    Please keep at this struggle, your eloquence inspires others.

    Namaste

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  2. RE: Comment from “Lucifer.” Your comment has been deemed inappropriate for this site by the administrators and will be removed. Please refer to the Guidelines section for further information regarding this issue.

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  3. Stephen Hawking believes the world will be destroyed by greed and stupidity. I give you CEOs. They pollute our oceans, foul our air, sever our mountain tops, frack, develop our lands, burn our forests, cause wars, own governments, the media, create terrorists, give us most cancers, many diseases, their companies are considered people in court despite having the money and power to defeat real people. They warm the planet and are slowly but surely depleting clean water supplies and ocean and atmospheric oxygen levels. As for stupidity, we just need to look in the mirror. We are fighting the wrong terrorists.

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  4. Beautifully written Ken. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt words which echo my own. I recently came across a similar essay from a woman named Deb Ozarko who shares your sentiments. Ironically, you both released your pieces around the same time. If it calls to you, part one of her essay is at this link http://www.debozarko.com/letting-go/ and the entire essay can be found here http://www.debozarko.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LettingGo.pdf

    You are far from alone Ken. There are more of us than you think.

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  5. Dearest Ken,
    Thank you for articulating exactly how I feel. I have always felt so completely connected with Mother Nature, I grew up in the forest, my best friends were the animals and the trees and the waterfall… I would actually feel it in my body, when the local forest was cut down to make way for humans… It all would devastate me so much, that over the years after every single day witnessing one horrific event in the natural world, in the lives of animals, children and humanity, I found it so hard to exist without slipping into dispair. So I numbed myself to it, I got busy, I did whatever it was to not feel so overwhelmed by the Earth collapse on so many levels… However, after numbing myself to the pain for long, recently, the grief come up out of nowhere, actually it felt as though I felt the grief of our Mother, of our beautiful Mother Earth, and it was at a social gathering, in a very public way, I just gave into my /our Mothers grief, I couldn’t stop crying, I was inconsolable however everyone gathered round me, and they felt it to, we all share this human condition, and we all live here, we are all in this together. May we all wake up before it’s too late 🌏
    I Love you for writing this.

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  6. Lucifer seems well-named to vent his vitriol at any who dares express concern or grief for our collective predicament. What has he (you, Lucifer) to gain if not a higher polish on his (your own) mirror?

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    1. Thank you Mel. The other administrators deemed Lucifer’s comment as abusive and disrespectful and removed it according to the Guidelines. But on a personal note I feel sorry for the individual behind the comment. It sounded to me like he or she has chosen to lash out at others in a form of displaced anger.

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  7. RE: Comment from “Lucifer.” Your comment has been deemed inappropriate for this site by the administrators and will be removed. Please refer to the Guidelines section for further information regarding this issue.

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  8. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this profound and eloquent essay and also the comments below it. I feel I have found companions on my own journey of grief for our beautiful and beloved planet and the community of heart-centered humans. Thank you, thank you for writing the truth we are experiencing..we speak out because we MUST, compelled from the soul and the inner knowing…I will share this..it is so important to let our voices, our grieving, our gratitude and our connecting be heard….

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  9. I just discovered your blog. Thank you for your activism, your actions, your voice, your silent screams. I hear them very loudly. You echo my sentiment and feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, rage and mourning. We are all connected as humans, living things and we are connected to our earth. It is our mother, nurturer, giver and sustainer. How can we not be and feel sick when she is sick and dying? How can we not feel hurt and damage when we hurt, damage and destroy her? Impossible. And yes, the only way to avoid feeling this pain is to continually numb ourselves and distract ourselves, to desensitise ourselves, to dehumanise ourselves. I also refuse to be and become numb. I allow myself to feel the hurt and pain deeply, which means I have to regularly hide away from the world and cut myself from others. Because I feel it is important to honour the pain, the hurt, the mourning. So I am mourning with you. Thank you again for writing so beautifully about this, fellow mourner.

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  10. I think it was Aldo Leopold who wrote that to receive an ecological education is to live alone in a world of wounds. Today that is much truer than when he wrote it because the wounds are so much more grievous — even fatal — while the means of anesthetic distraction are correspondingly vast. Lewis Mumford observed in 1964 that if available information continued on its exponential trajectory, it would result in mass ignorance, and I think about that as I watch almost everyone in cities now hunched over their mobile devices except that most are seeking entertainment rather than information. That is only to be expected as the news becomes ever more ominous.

    It is hard for those of us who perhaps masochistically want to know what is actually happening to keep track of the perfect storm into which our ship is headed, but even harder is the isolation we feel because it doesn’t make for polite conversation with our families, friends, and the general public. I find myself increasingly retreating to the country where human interactions are less frequent, where I can enjoy what is left of nature even as I watch its impoverishment, and where I can read books again in what time is left, to learn from old friends with names like Dickens and Woolf and Twain.

    Thank you for expressing so well what so many of us feel but must keep to ourselves, living alone in a world of now lethal wounds.

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  11. The Matrix is an entity woven of lies. It is the creation of human beings, but has taken on an existence that now operates largely independent of their awareness or control. It is a machine of death which is destroying it’s creators. Those who awake to this horror see no other option but to fight it by every means possible for the sake of all of us trapped within it’s deadly meshes.

    The Matrix goes by many names – religion, race, militarism, capitalism, progress, democracy, normalcy, conformity, science, education, medicine, patriotism, love, the truth…. All of these mythic systems of belief are poisoned and corrupted in ways that belie their supposed virtues. This vast web of lies prevents those under it’s influence from seeing their fatal trajectory into extinction, and deludes them into hugging tightly to themselves the engines of their undoing. Indeed the mass of humans will fight anyone who tries to take away their illusions and addictions.

    Our primary weapons in fighting this monster are Truth and Unconditional Love. We must persist in applying these real values and powers against a world given over to lies and unrealities, regardless of the strength of the opposition to them and the lack of immediate results. There is no other way. The vast evil we have created demands our best and truest efforts to undo it. Unless enough of us awake to our danger, we will sleepwalk into our extinction as a species.

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  12. Masterful meditation, Ken. I value your words and sentiments and share your grief. For some reason I am reminded of words Jesus uttered before his death: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Loneliness and horror pervade our culture and our souls. We are broken beyond imagining. But I believe that the public cry of the heart in its emptied, impocerished state has redemptive power to transform us, to make us new and whole beyond this mortal coil.

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  13. You are not alone; everyday I say sorry to the other lives our fossil fueled civilisation is taking down with us. I have only been really aware for about three years that climate change is here and will take away most that we love in our lifetimes. I really don’t care about myself but I am addicted to knowing what’s going on because I need to push myself to do whatever I can to save some life which can re-emerge when our “civilisation” is long gone.

    We have just got to trust that if we stop the damage it will allow the Earth to rebalance. I am prepared to work to save the tardigrades and lifeforms at the bottom of the oceans deepest trench. I have stopped trying to weed because the tough invading foreign species may be just the ones to survive. I have been arrested 5 times in the last 3 years fighting the fossil fuel industry. #breakfree2016

    One of my fossil fuel fighting friends is 94 now, a WW2 veteran who has just been arrested blocking a railway line which takes coal into the World’s biggest coal port. http://www.theherald.com.au/story/3896115/future-protests-to-be-held-on-needs-basis/

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  14. Thank you for these profound words. You might have written from my own Soul reflections. I would add that since 1971 I tried to live a healthy, non wasteful and environmentally respectful life. It is devastating to see that my efforts have been for nothing. I don’t regret because I know at least I didn’t make things worse. At 69 I am glad this experience is nearly over. They tell me due to my good health that I could live another 40 to 50 years but I don’t want to watch the corruption and decay of society and destruction of this exquisite planet that many more decades. I rebelled against society and capitalism and tried to live an alternative life of non consumerism. I don’t regret but it left me without a parachute. I’ve learned that health without the money to survive is pointless. Something that didn’t occur to me when I was young. So people like Steve Jobs could not buy longer life although he had all the money in the world and my health does not buy me any more time than he could buy. There is something wrong with a system like this.
    Thank you again I will ponder your words, share this with others who are much younger and may feel inspired to break away from the status quo and try to make a difference. My days of fighting, demonstrating and marching are done.

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  15. Kenn, I am on the same page wih you in your grieving. I don’t recall whether I have shared this little poem I wrote some years ago with you, so here goes:

    If you don’t hurt
    Then you may be
    Sicker than you realize.

    If you don’t cry
    Your heart
    May be frozen.

    If you have not screamed yet
    Then your sanity
    Has become a disease.

    I am 85 years old now. I began deepening my realization of the massive and terminal failure of our species back in the sixties when I read Silent Spring. I have traversed Kubler Ross’s stages of grief and a couple she didn’t cover over the intervening years. The pain of waking to a world spiraling into madness and self-destruction was often almost too much to bear. The insane tragedy we are enacting!

    I value greatly your beautiful efforts to articulate our sorrow, Kenn. You make me feel a little less alone in this realization of our doomed trajectory.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You are not alone; everyday I say sorry to the other lives our fossil fueled civilisation is taking down with us. I have only been really aware for about three years that climate change is here and will take away most of what we love in our lifetimes. I really don’t care about myself but I am addicted to knowing what’s going on because I need to push myself to do whatever I can to save some life which can re-emerge when our “civilisation” is long gone.

      We have just got to trust that if we stop the damage it will allow the Earth to rebalance. I wrisk my own life to save the tardigrades and lifeforms at the bottom of the oceans deepest trench. I have stopped trying to weed because the tough invading foreign species may be just the ones to survive. I have been arrested 5 times in the last 3 years fighting the fossil fuel industry. #breakfree2016 Each time I lock on I think about the species which could still be saved,

      One of my fossil fuel fighting friends is 94 now, a WW2 veteran who has just been arrested blocking a railway line which takes coal into the World’s biggest coal port. http://www.theherald.com.au/story/3896115/future-protests-to-be-held-on-needs-basis/ Best wishes to all who are prepared to speak up and take action. We may not win any battle and we will never know if our actions have results, but it is better to fight for the future than to just give up. At least it can give us a little atonement for our own part in the climate breakdown.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Thanks Ken. Another stunning piece of writing that speaks to anyone with an open heart willing to listen. You are not alone in grieving. There are many of us who follow what is happening to our biosphere and planet on a daily basis and it makes for incredibly depressing reading. On the other hand, I am glad to see this whole fake destructive force called “civilization” being brought down by our own hubris and self centeredness. The sooner we are gone the better chance other species and life has to re-generate on Gaia.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Ken, I’m considerably older than you – farther down the oneway track…but you are not alone and, as an artist, educator, writer, parent and failed community awareness organizer…well, I hear you and share what it is we must acknowledge. So – “may we go peacefully into the dark night”. Thanks for your sharing. Mel

    Liked by 6 people

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