A few weeks ago I ventured out into a snowstorm to attend a demonstration concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department had just issued its environmental report which said the pipeline would have a negligible effect on climate change, and now the ball’s in President Obama’s court to decide whether to approve the pipeline’s construction.
Contrary to the State Department’s report downplaying the environmental consequences, the pipeline has been described by some environmentalists as the “line in the sand” in terms of our energy policy because the greenhouse gasses that would result from refining and burning the tar sands oil “would tip the scales toward dire climate change”. Climate scientist James Hanson has gone as far as saying if the pipeline moves forward and the tar sands extraction continues, the “game’s over” in our efforts to avoid runaway global warming.
Those of us who braved the cold and the snow that day to express our concern about the pipeline huddled next to the Federal Building in Center City Philadelphia listening to a handful of speakers talk about the implications of the pipeline and about the pledge that thousands of people across the country are signing, committing themselves to civil disobedience should the pipeline be approved. The organizers then said they would lead us in a training in which we would role play getting arrested. Some of them would play the role of police and the rest of us would come forward in groups, simulating a blockade of the Federal Building doors, and be “arrested.”
At that point I left, though not because I was uncomfortable with the idea of role playing being arrested. I’ve actually been arrested on three occasions for civil disobedience, the last time in front of the doors of this same Federal Building when the U.S. invaded Iraq, and I served a week in maximum-security federal prison as a result.
The reason I left wasn’t because I was uncomfortable with the role play, nor because I felt I didn’t need the practice. I left because of a deeper discomfort I was feeling that I wasn’t able to name at the time, but which in the weeks since I’ve been able to bring into focus.
Losing Touch with Reality
The way I see it, the environmental devastation that humans are inflicting on the planet boils down to a pretty simple cause: we’ve lost touch with Reality. We’re living in an illusion, a dream, that has persuaded us that we exist as distinct entities separate from the Earth we are depleting and poisoning, separate from the generations to come that will be born into a toxic environment, separate from the pristine forests that would be destroyed to extract the tar sands oil, separate from all the other creatures on this planet that suffer from our “progress” and separate from the Life that brought all of us forth.
Our illusion of separateness is the real thing we have to address, which is why some of the protests I have engaged in in the past and for which I’ve been arrested are no longer adequate for me. It isn’t that I see them as “wrong.” It’s that I now see them as too conventional.
Let me explain. Oftentimes our protests act out the very same story of separateness we need to move beyond, a story of us vs. them, peace activists vs. hawks, environmentalists vs. oil company CEOs. We play out the same story; we just perceive different “enemies.”
I sense that what the Earth needs from me now is something much more radical and much more difficult than being arrested. I sense that what the Earth needs from me — and from all of us — is to move beyond the concept of separateness altogether, a concept that exists only in our minds.
The real training we need, we who want to help heal the world, has less to do with role playing being arrested and more to do with going within ourselves and finding there the “other” whom we would disdain, and loving him.
I experienced an interesting phenomenon during the years George W. Bush was president when I was in adamant disagreement with many of the actions the administration was taking, from the invasion of Iraq to the “War on Terror” to “No Child Left Behind” to an energy policy that continued our dependence on fossil fuels.
The interesting phenomenon was that on several occasions during those years, President Bush came to me in my dreams. In those dreams I invariably told him how much I disagreed with his decisions, and yet my interactions with him were always respectful. Many times I was able to see his own vulnerability and deep need, and I felt a warm regard for him. Even though I was disagreeing with him, I never vilified him. I didn’t see him as evil or as an enemy. I saw him as mistaken, but his humanity and basic goodness were never in question.
Those dreams were important teachings for me, and they attest to the work our generation has been given to do at this point of planetary opportunity. Those of us who wish to help heal an Earth so deeply wounded by the human story of separateness can only do so by transcending that same story within ourselves, otherwise we are simply lending that story further energy and momentum.
When it comes to the Keystone pipeline, then, I must realize that not only am I one with the forests that would be clear cut, and the land and water that would be contaminated, and the crude oil that never asked to be extracted and burned, but just as importantly I am one with the CEO of TransCanada and all those who are pushing for the pipeline’s construction.
The Question: What Are We Demonstrating?
I understand Love to be the Reality of Oneness that is at the heart of all Being. Nothing exists outside of it, and nothing is or can be rejected by it. So when in our quest to protect the Earth we participate in demonstrations, the question for me becomes: What are we demonstrating? Are we demonstrating division and anger, or are we demonstrating the truth of Love? Because if it’s the former, even though we may achieve a short-term goal we have not contributed to the deeper healing the world needs — that we need.
The demonstrations I want to be part of now are much more radical than any I have ever witnessed or taken part in because they would demonstrate the Reality of Oneness, the Reality of Love which dissolves the illusion that holds the world captive. They would be demonstrations that would hold forth the light of our mutual divinity, of the sanctity of the Earth and all her beings. And if our demonstrations must challenge harmful actions, they would do so not out of anger or hatred but out of a deep desire for the wellbeing of the one who would carry them out, the one who is so asleep in the dream that he truly knows not what he does.
I find symbolic meaning in the name of this proposed pipeline, because a keystone is the center stone at the top of an archway that joins the opposing sides. A keystone unites, and I can’t help but wonder if the real keystone we are being asked to demonstrate at this point in our history is the keystone of Love, the one and only Reality.
If we can direct our creative capacity toward demonstrations of Love — for one another, for the Earth, for all that Is — we will begin to dissolve the illusion of separateness that is decimating the planet, opening the way for a great transformation, a metamorphosis on Earth that from our current vantage point seems utterly impossible.