May 9, 2020

Our Coming Baptism by Fire

There is worse ahead. In acceptance, hope is transformed into energy for the unimaginable.
By Chris Taylor /
Our Coming Baptism by Fire
Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

Here’s what I have been told. By trees and stars. By meditation and dream. By gnosis - the knowing from an unknown source. These are truths that you may know too – by science or observation, by experience passed to you in your DNA by ancestors who watched Rome burn, Egypt fall, Aztec, Inca, Babylonian citadels crumble.

These are not comfortable truths. There is little hope in them. The only refuge now is in acceptance. In acceptance the suffering transforms into energy for preparation.

Here’s what I have come to know:

What’s ahead is worse than this. Far worse than COVID. This is the plague. What’s coming is a plague of plagues. I have been asked “Are you ready to undergo baptism by fire?”. I know now what that means.

The poplars have warned me that we will not learn from this. We: humanity, as a species, as a collective consciousness. We are not ready yet. The part of us that is destroying the world is already queuing up to colonise the last corners of government, to hijack every available Dollar, Pound, Euro and Yuan. The airlines, the car makers, the fossil fuel companies are elbowing each other in the race to return to Business As Normal, where they can amass fortunes in good times and rob the poor of social support during bad.

This part of us says it’s for jobs, for the economy, to provide. To a degree this is true. And beneath this, is vanity, greed, competition, a childish need for comfort, validation, admiration. As long as this need remains unsated we will not learn to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Believe me, I should know.

Next in line, if there is anything left, any more money to be conjured from quantitative easing, deceitful central bank slight of hand, is the part of us that lives in denial, in hope, perhaps a little in desperation. This is our rescuer and fixer, our dreamer and crack-addict inventor. It is the part of us that refuses to admit defeat, that carries on regardless, that will not look hard truths in the eye. It kids us that we can save ourselves with a Green New Deal. We can carry on as before but cleaner, greener, shinier.

If we shift at all, it will be to here: the promise of green jobs, green energy, green cities, green cars, trains, planes, chemicals, cosmetics, computers. It will not be to less, slower or closer to the soil. It will not be to the rhythms of nature, to dirt beneath our nails, to falling in love with the message of moonlight, the wisdom of the forest, the laughter of a brook. Powering global capitalism on renewable energy will not save the planet. It just means cleaner fumes coming from the exhaust of the Earth Destroying Machine.

No. We are not ready to get our hands dirty, to put ourselves at the mercy of the elements, to trust the unfathomable abundance of this fecund planet. We are not ready yet to forego the vestiges of the privilege we have amassed through the rape of the world. Our arrogance and separation, our denial and vanity have destined us to the brink of destruction. We export the most unpalitable consequence of our "civilisation" to that same place as always: to people and places and species out-of-sight who we have colonised and think we have conquered, thought they resist with stoic dignity as they always have. And we act as if we have forgotten that in a single interconnected living world, this will inevitably rebound on us all in time.

We know for sure there will be climate chaos. We are likely headed for a four degree world. For dead coral, melted ice caps and uninhabitable tropics. We know there will be more species extinctions, more human suffering and death on a biblical scale. High technology, Bio-technology, Artificial Intelligence cannot save us from any of this – the death, the disease, the heat. This is our baptism by fire.

There will be famine as industrialised agriculture destroys the fertility of the soil. There will be more pandemics as we colonise the remote and hostile places where animals hide and as our misguided model of medicine continues to manipulate disease in laboratories. There may even be war, but please God, let our fatally wounded institutions save us from this if they have anything left to offer.

Last night, as the full moon rose over the orchard, I sat at the foot of a dear ancient walnut tree. Looking up through the branches at the stars decorating every bough, they told me: there is no stopping this now. The only way you (all of humanity) are going to change, is to face the hell you have unleashed and either survive it or not.

This is the way it must be. We will only learn by falling over and picking ourselves up. By failing. By bringing ourselves to the point of death. Such is initiation. That’s the way it is, they said. It’s the way it always is - the cycle by which species rise and fall and sometimes evolve enought to survive. It may be painful for you but everything is the only way it could ever be.

The task then, is not to cry “Stop”. We tried that and it failed. It is not even, as COVID ends, to plead “No going back”. We have lost that arm-wrestle to the corporate lobbies, before it even began. Nor is the task to find “hope” - which has been mugged and left for dead in a back alley somewhere between Wall Street and the White House.

I can think of two things worth doing now. One is to prepare for the long painful collapse of all we know. To prepare whatever lifeboats we can, for as many as we can, to weather the storm. This means as many of us as we can muster, getting our hands dirty. It means spiritual work, bodily work, work on the land. Lots of work on the land. Digging, planting, growing, listening deeply.

And it means community building. The sometimes messy, painful, often joyous, always gritty work of living together, working together in difference. Knitting bonds of interdependence with those in your village, street, tower-block. And firing these bonds in the intensity of stress, fear and the possibility of fracture. These bonds are the resilience we will need for what’s ahead. Resilience is in community, as well as in personal practice. Surely we have learnt this much during lockdown.

Second, we must prepare the story. The story of how we broke the planet. And the story of why we did the things we did, that got a few of us through. This story must be sung and told around campfires for generations to come. It must live kicking and screaming, dancing wildly, within every myth and legend told to every child by every grandparent for the rest of eternity. It must become the ancient code of a new creed. For without it, we will be destined to repeat the same mistake until finally we are no longer.


Chris Taylor is author of The Tao of Revolution.

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