Tag Archives: grief

Coming Out of the Cave

Office Cubicles  Stock Footage     To succeed in America, we are constantly told, is to occupy a cubicle: in an office, in a suburb and, finally, in one’s own mind. We internalize the belief that attaining the carrots of meretricious wealth maliciously dangled before our eyes will somehow fill the void created by industrial civilization itself.  But the limits to this folly are obscured by its ubiquitous distractions.  It is a terrain of self-delusion, divorced from reality and self-medicated to numbness.

Consumerism  MK FeeneyNourished by the fossilized blood of the ancient earth, this nightmarish landscape of banality flourishes almost endlessly across the horizon. Insulated enclaves of cloned track houses, featureless monolithic office buildings, green golf courses and flowing water are surrounded by parched earth and razed wilderness. It is architecture designed for alienation. It is the triumph of extraordinary conformity and authoritarianism. And it is a celebration of blind and insatiable consumerism for the benefit of the privileged few.

Las Vegas suburbia  Source: Stock FootageThe American psyche has been conditioned to resist deepening or self-examination thanks to the merchants of Wall Street, Hollywood and Washington DC. They aver that endless growth is necessary, good and even patriotic. In reality they are a gang of self-aggrandizing thieves who present themselves as a vanguard here to save us all; and their task is a simple one. They must maintain the unassailable sacrosanct liturgy of capitalism and the mythology of the free market while reducing the natural world to monetary units, replacing the commons with strip malls, and placing life, both human and non, into categories of productivity or disposal. They must manipulate base prejudices against “the other” with jingoism to induce compliance for imperialistic wars of plunder.  They must shrink wrap all that is sacred and life-giving into commodities and parade an endless spectacle of manufactured outrages and celebrity gossip/worship.

celebrity couples Art by Daiana FeuerBut keeping up appearances is untenable and not very sexy when ecosystems are collapsing around you, reservoirs are drying up, and species are rapidly going extinct. The absurdity of their scheme is evinced in their simultaneous denial of climate change and rapacious attempts to extract oil from a rapidly melting Arctic Sea. Such paradigms have the habit of doing themselves in; and this one appears very close to full on collapse. It is death by a thousand cuts or, in this case, a thousand climate change induced storms and droughts.

crane among trashWhere then does this all leave those of us who cannot look away any longer? We can join the ranks of those who wish to reform the system; but how does one reform a metastasized cancer? Most of us have rooted ourselves in self-delusion, partly out of apathy, but mostly out of defeat. The magicians of wealth and power can put on a dazzling show.  And liberation from the claustrophobic confines of their corporate controlled prison of illusion is not easy.  It is also neither sudden or permanent. It requires constant attention and re-visiting. But as in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave we possess the power to spurn the shadows on the wall and rise to the surface of our own accord and, in the process, help others who are weary clamber their way out too. The puppeteers be damned.

Allegory of the Cave by Plato  Source Pixgood

In the light of day the banal landscape of mindless consumerism shatters to create possibility even in the midst of devastation and despair. The vapid forms of entertainment and celebrity adoration that were once alluring, crumble to heaps of hackneyed dust. Here there is no object that can replace the soul, no product that can entice away from the birthright of nature or human connection.

What becomes of us who cannot live comfortably anymore within the emptiness of consumerism? Where do those of us who can no longer ignore or placate the death machine of industrial civilization go? We are pushed out of the cave and to the margins of the empire.  We are forced to the surface. And it is there where we can either languish or decide that freeing our soul is worth the price of exile and even persecution.  In any case, the view at the top is magnificent.

Light of Nature  Source Pichost
Kenn Orphan  2015

Hospice as an Answer to Ecocide

     When I started working with the terminally ill over 20 years ago I had not yet made the connection between the hospice approach to human suffering at the end of life and that of our embattled and dying ecosystem. I first encountered the idea of viewing the earth and all who inhabit it on hospice after reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. I came to see the same patterns of misery, denial, angst, terror, empathy, alienation and actualization that define our own personal response to grief mirrored in our collective condition as a species in a myriad of species facing their end.  And I believe this model is the best response to the catastrophe of climate change, mass species extinction and the self-destructive nature of industrial civilization.

Photographer Adnan Abidi Reuters

     Wikipedia defines hospice as “a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.” It is a philosophy that stands in stark contrast to the current models addressing (or not) the coming catastrophe.  Sadly, hospice continues to be an alien concept in much of modern western medicine, the goal being instead to save the patient through aggressive measures, and without pause.  Hospice is still largely viewed in a defeatist light.  To many, it is seen as “giving up.”  Many people still refer to someone who has died of cancer as “losing their battle.”  And the myth that a hospice is still simply a place to go die, as in the Medieval age, endures in popular culture. But to most of those who have consciously chosen hospice when they face a limited future, their experience has nothing to do with giving up.  Instead, they have decided that they wish to use what time they have left to pursue the best aspects of what it is to be alive in the first place.

Medieval Hospice Artist Robert Alan Thom

     To the person who has realized that their time ahead may be short, materialism, popularity, money, and power usually fall by the wayside. In their place, the nurturing of relationships, connection with nature, pursuit of one’s deepest dreams, celebration of imagination, and spiritual fulfillment become more urgent. Forgiveness and mercy provide a road to healing, and the life we are fortunate to have left becomes infinitely more meaningful and precious.  Society is a mirror of the individual psyche; and when faced with grave news both will react with the same stages of grief outlined by the pioneering psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.   Like the feedback loops of climate change, none of this is linear. All of these stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are interchangeable and fluid. And each serves an important purpose for protecting the psyche. But the paralysis we are at now as a society in facing our collective future will only create more misery and suffering as the clock ticks on.

Consumerism MK Feeney

In its unending quest to dominate and profit from nature, Western society has divorced itself from the sacred.  It has created a civilization that is dependent upon the liquified remains of a distant past buried deep in the earth’s crust, and on the value of intangible digits that float between banks and corporations.  It relies on avarice and communicates with violence.  And in the wake of this ultimately self-destructive obsession, the nature of which it springs from and which ultimately sustains its existence, is decimated, reduced to rubble and cast aside. The narcissistic impulse of the consumer driven economy cannot view nature, and the myriad of other life forms that inhabit its realm, as anything but soulless objects for exploitation and profit.  Indeed, it is this disconnect that has lead us to the Anthropocene epoch, or age of homo sapiens, the Sixth Mass Extinction, and to the precipice of omnicide we stand at now.

Photo Jo Christian Oterhals

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

     The hospice model provides a framework for grappling with the overwhelming ecocide unfolding before us, and the nightmarish landscape of mindless consumerism.  It speaks the language of kindness, mercy and compassion to a world glaringly bereft of all three.  It generously applies a healing balm to the wounds inflicted by injustice, cruelty and war.   At a time where countless species are being condemned to the halls of extinction each day, and where climate chaos is accelerating, the compassionate realism of hospice, which embraces every dimension of healing, presents humanity with the best hope we have left to cherish and fiercely preserve all that is precious on this life drenched planet.  And it reclaims our ancestral heritage; when we once knew what it was like to look up in awe at the night sky and realize we live adrift in an ocean of stars, and appreciate just how marvelous the improbability of life itself really is.

Photographer Richard Gottardo

Kenn Orphan  2015

Bearing Witness

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

We are all witnesses to the Great Dying, a sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is not hyperbole; it is a defining feature of our age.

Jonathon Blair - Copy

Countless species are falling prey to the wealthy’s indifference, militarism and folly everyday. As in ancient civilizations, the wealthy and the privileged are generally the last to feel the pain of collapse, yet are most often the root cause. And compared to the mass of humanity we share this planet with, and as a result of rapacious exploitation and plunder, Americans, and westerners in general, are the wealthy and the privileged of modern civilization.

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

Despite overwhelming evidence of crashing ecosystems, many of us living in the twilight years of the American empire seem oblivious to the canaries in the coal mine. Every human being who has ever lived, lived here, on this little, saltwater drenched rock suspended in the endless, cold ocean of space. Yet so often one can feel as if they were alone, wandering among zombies and phantoms, unaware of or uninterested in grappling with what lies ahead of us. The magicians and merchants of corporate consumerism foster this disconnection gleefully, and create a labyrinth of distractions and doubts that add to the self-delusion.

I Shop Therefore I Am

Insipid optimism is the demand of our corporate kingdom. Eternal youth, popularity, and economic fortune, are to be believed not only possible, but necessary for fulfillment and social connection. This is not an optimism that enjoins the soul to more wondrous places, or that stirs a connection to the nature we are all born of. This is the kind of optimism that unhinges you from reality; and that chaffs the skin of your soul. It is like a chisel set against your skull. It is the kind of optimism that condescendingly tells us that “everything is going to be okay.” Even if this were somehow true, everything is NOT okay for millions of people and countless species around the planet right now.  And not acknowledging that underscores the inherent callousness in this way of thinking. It masquerades as hope; but it is merely cruelty obscured by a deceptive, mocking jingle.

In our society we are temporarily appeased by objects created for one use. In fact many wars of our age are fought for just this purpose. The plastic items that are choking our oceans were born in the darkness of oil wells and tar sands, drilled and scraped clean for the ease of a fleeting moment, and tossed away to become forgotten, yet enduring pollution. The shaming evidence is scuttled away in the darkness of the early morning, so that our day, our very important day, is not inconvenienced by the unending moan of the nature we crush under busy, productive feet.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

The petro-dollar has made our penchant for convenience and self-delusion incredibly efficient. It has spawned the neoliberal economics that repress hundreds of millions of people and that is now driving us all toward extinction. And we have been conditioned to see this all as merely “the way of progress,” and to malign and ridicule those whose hearts see such sights and mourn the enormous weight of history, the staggering lack of empathy and the gaping dearth of a viable future for a species callously divorced from its soul.

We have been meticulously trained to separate life itself into worthiness categories, in fact, to be seen only as useful if it serves our copious desire for more. We house millions of sentient beings in concentration camps, bereft of comfort or even the ability to turn around, often brutally beaten and mutilated, stripped of the dignity any creature has a birthright to, all to sate our unending appetite for flesh.

cows at a factory farm

We avert our eyes to the plastic bags clinging to the branches of decrepit trees, or the bottle caps that outnumber seashells on the shore, or the birthday balloons floating atop the waves at the beach, even while knowing their destination will in all likelihood be the stomach of some hapless sea turtle. After all, paying attention might cause us to question. It might cause us to change. It might reignite the sacred reverence our ancestors knew. It might cause us to face the demons of our cupidity and the resulting devastation and suffering they cause.

A seabird with a stomach full of plastic waste Photographer Chris Jordan (photo: Chris Jordan)

We can remain in denial about the ecocide we are all witness to, as the cult of optimism would have us do, or we can acknowledge and embrace the sorrow that is a natural response to loss, devastation and catastrophe. In grief we make a choice to honor the lost and their existence. We speak in a clear voice, to anyone who will listen, that their lives mattered. And we are also forced to face our own mortality in the process.

Agreeing to walk through our grief honestly can be a catalyst for creative defiance and undaunted dissent. It is perhaps the only resistance we can offer to the insistence of apathy imposed on us from the wraiths on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. The unnatural barriers they have erected to mask our humanity crumble in the rancid pile they deserve when a soul is set free to grieve. It is in grief that we find ourselves to be inseparable from each other, and from the nature from which we are all born. In this way, sorrow is the only coherent answer to extinction. It is a wail of conscience.

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

Bearing witness to the unprecedented crime of ecocide sweeping our planet is not accepting the carnage, it is lending another voice to testify on the behalf of the victims. And in doing so, it succeeds in making the difficult case for the worth of the human soul.

Kenn Orphan  2014

The Map Out

MALL1-facebook     One of the most harrowing challenges of modern life in the West is navigating through the massive desert of mindless, materialistic consumerism. It is within this landscape that a soul can become lost and drenched in despair. From the endless stream of vacant eyed wraiths that glide down catwalks, to the pervasive advertising that never ceases to demean the values of empathy and compassion and hollow out any meaning associated with human connection, to the entertainment industry which revels in the depths of cruelty it can sink to, the onslaught on the psyche is both constant and merciless.

consumerism Picture Source Green is SexyThe American shopping mall is a reflection of this nightmare of ravenous cupidity and a message of stark disenfranchisement to the ever growing underclass. Its glossy finishes and plastic displays erect a wall of defense against anything remotely human or sacred. It entices the youngest of our society with the promise of fulfillment and social status through the acquisition of objects, the alteration of their faces and bodies, and the tacit abandonment of any connection with the natural world and all the beings that inhabit it. Concrete and glass monoliths of corporatism drive home the deepest sense of alienation and desolation by design. It is a fantasy land of the cruelest fakery, replacing the lively, chaotic and thoroughly interactive market place with the impersonal, the absurd, and the surreal. Exported around the world to some of the most impoverished nations on the planet, it is a unique, exclusionary and effective form of imperialism.

The Big Box stores, in contrast, make no pretense to that kind of romanticism. They sit shamelessly on seas of pavement in wetlands, lush meadows or downed forests, scraped and drained clean of their original life and inhabitants. They are a reflection of what America has become; a stark and depersonalized vision of depravity within the setting of a dying ecosystem. Their plastic and glossy objects fill giant bins as they fill our oceans and river systems. Their clothing racks conceal the stain of sweat shop slavery. They exude the callousness of a factory farm, encouraging and cheering on aggression, prodding livestock into its maw of spiraled decadence. This is the architecture of banal cruelty and indifference.
mindless consumerism Philosophers Stone

Understanding this landscape it should not come as a surprise that stories about vampires and zombies dominate contemporary, popular entertainment. These themes perfectly mimic the corporate capitalist economic model which glamorizes and celebrates the ghoulish and the macabre, while it rapaciously feeds upon the most vulnerable and powerless members of society for profit. The monsters in these tales are almost always fascinating, beautiful or so powerful as to be envied, while their victims are generally bereft of any identity at all. And this is exactly the way the wealthy elite want ordinary people to think of themselves. This ideology may contribute to the emergence of the mass shooter phenomenon, but it also underlies the mass acceptance of the police state model which relies on the violence of the state to reinforce the boundaries of class, and to bolster the mythology of the superiority of the powerful and wealthy.

The map out of this nightmare is often masked by the empty promises of having more stuff, altering ones outer appearance or conforming to socially acceptable shallowness. Advertising, social media and the political class, which sanctify the zombification of modern society, demand we attune and respond to their dictates and Siren song, lest we be banished from the corporate kingdom. Of course exclusion is terrifying to the elite and serf alike. We have been trained to avert our eyes from the homeless, the working poor and the far flung slaves to our insatiable consuming. If we dare look we might see our collective future. We might see exactly how our separateness is a grand deceit, a scam. And in doing so we might indeed shun otherness for the embrace of actual human beings. Free or revolutionary thought cannot be tolerated in a capitalist corporatocracy where denial, jingoism and conformity are embedded in the liturgy.

Black Friday Shoppers

But we are coming to the end of the illusion, for better and for worse, sooner rather than later. The planet’s ecosystems are wailing from the misery our way of life has inflicted upon them. They are dying. And the humanity that has been enslaved to continue this insanity are beginning to recognize their chains. Mass extinction is fast closing in on us.  All of us will be forced to face this reality whether we want to or not. An industrial, consumerist society, based upon an endless growth economic model on a planet with finite resources, is impossible to sustain. It will eventually collapse.

Shell oil pollution Niger Delta Agence France Presse

Camel dead from plastic consumption

Polar bear on dwindling Arctic ice sheet PA

If there is map out of the cemetery that we have long dug for countless species by our selfish indulgences and out of the wreckage of civilization, that irony of all ironies, it may very well lie in the chance, however remote, that some of us will emerge from the ruins long enough to tell a different story of who we are.  Perhaps we will have enough time to honor all that we had and mourn all that was lost.  And perhaps future generations, if there are any who survive, will not hate us too much for the brutality we tolerated and the ecocide we caused.

Perhaps.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo Credits:
-An abandoned shopping mall in Mid-west America and is credited to Seph Lawless, courtesy of TWC (The Weather Channel)

-Courtesy of the Philosopher’s Stone

-Black Friday shoppers and is stock footage (Techno Buffalo)

-Devastation in the Niger Delta from oil pollution. Agence France Presse.

-Camel dead from consuming plastic waste.  Plastic Pollution Coalition

-A polar bear on a ever dwindling Arctic ice sheet/PA

An Eternal Rebuke

iraq motherOften a photograph can convey the emotions and sorrow of life far more poignantly and powerfully than any words can. In this award winning photograph, entitled “Last Touch” by Adem Hadei of the Associated Press, an Iraqi mother embraces her young son fatally shot in Baqouba in 2007. The attention span of the corporate media is egregiously short, much more so with the established political class. They have all moved on from Iraq just as they have done so with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Indonesia, Libya and every other nation that had the grave misfortune of being the recipient of American “liberation and democracy.”

The hawks in Washington never cease their circling above, salivating for another nation to ruthlessly invade, rape and plunder for profit. But the embrace of this mother and her dying child serve as an eternal rebuke of such follies. Our feckless and soulless leaders be damned. They cannot ever erase the human capacity for selflessness and compassion. Their songs of war are hollow husks of bitterness compared to the chorus of mothers who call us all to look at the faces of their sons and daughters, slain on far flung fields everywhere by the callous whims of imperialism. And their light will far outshine the lust for power and avarice that drive men to madness and endless wars of conquest.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press and Picture of the Year International)