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Confessions of a Would Be “Prepper”

photo credit: anitasarkeesian via photopin cc

photo credit: anitasarkeesian via photopin cc

COLUMN: In Everyday Life

by Sara Demetry, Barnet, Vermont

For as long as I can remember, fear has been a constant companion. A few years ago, this fear ballooned in response to what I was reading about the possible outcomes of climate change, peak oil, and population overgrowth – the potential outcome, according to some, being the collapse of industrial society.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of collapse, of societal breakdown, of the extinction of human beings and the destruction of this beautiful planet without becoming intensely anxious and fearful. I felt a certain amount of dissonance between my fearful mind which kept me obsessed with a profound urge to buy land and engage in a major sustainability project, and a voice inside that said “what about enlighted society?”

I wondered why no one else in Shambhala seemed to be talking about this. I felt badly about my not so optimistic outlook. So I kept quiet, at least publicly, but continued to read and to take actions that helped to assuage my anxiety. I somewhat secretly engaged in “prepper” (preparing for collapse) behavior, purchasing a sun oven, respiration masks, iodine for water, and stored some extra beans and rice in the basement.

I fantasized about having a wood or pellet stove and going off the grid. My mind turned toward thinking of things we could have on hand to trade or exchange if things got really bad. I began to engage in practices of “re-skilling”, which inspired me to explore herbal medicine, gardening, knitting, and the art of fermentation. I joined my local time bank and food coop, traded my car in for a better mileage vehicle, and took shorter showers. I experienced what felt like waves of denial (which sounded like “what, collapse of industrial society, are you crazy?”) and then the return of fear and grief when I came to the conclusion that it was possible and when I saw the signs all around me.

All this as I continued to practice as a Shambhalian and tried to bring this to the cushion and to listen for answers in the Sakyong’s teachings. My interest shifted from the practical issues around collapse to the emotional and psychological implications.

The “Transition” movement pointed me in the direction of several authors, among them Joanna Macy and Carolyn Baker, and I read extensively for a few years about “transition” and “resiliency”, the importance of “gratitude” and allowing one’s grief for the world.

It wasn’t too surprising that along the way I ran into several references to the Shambhala teachings on warriorship as crucial to this time in our history. It was also helpful to explore a larger perspective on climate change, educating myself about the history of how climate has changed on our planet and what we might expect in the near and distant future.

I was reminded again and again that worrying about the future of our planet was not exactly being in the “now”. I grew more comfortable with the uncertainty of life and death. And at the same time, I looked at my decisions and choices around energy consumption with new eyes, more aware of the consequences of those choices.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed at the scale of suffering we are witnessing day in and day out. That overwhelm may lead to feeling that there is nothing at all we can do; that we can’t make a difference. Joanna Macy, in her book “Active Hope”, encourages us to think of power as a verb rather than a noun, and to contemplate and recall times when we did make a difference.

Actively resisting the impulse to give up is necessary if we are to adapt. The human spirit has a remarkable ability to adapt to previously unthinkable situations. I saw this clearly in my own family as my father, previously fit and healthy at age 75, lost the use of his lower body to an autoimmune disorder that took 1 1/2 years to diagnose. His family witnessed him struggle with the unknown cause of his paralysis, the hope and fear that it entailed, and his wavering commitment to life under these new conditions. More recently we have witnessed his comeback and a new engagement with the world in spite of his paralysis. If my father could overcome this, it gives me more confidence that we as individuals and as a society have the capacity to adapt.

Another experience, that of the death of our friend and sangha member Susan Shaw, reminded me close up that we are all here for a limited time. Observing the dignity with which she lived the last weeks of her life was a reminder that whatever time we have left, as individuals or as a society, the most important thing is to live it mindfully and with compassion.

What continues to emerge is a new understanding that it is both possible to fully hold in awareness our sense of grief for the possible extinction of our species and of the natural world as we now know it, and at the same time to invest fully in a commitment to bringing about enlightened society. The Sakyong says, “We can live with tremendous strength” and that “we have the worthiness to exist on planet earth”.

We can fully face the realities that are occurring with bravery and compassion. And that might guide our day-to-day choices about how we live. I have begun to reframe my “prepper” urges not just as neurosis but also as healthy movement toward adaptation, possibly even an intuitive signal that could be held with appreciation and curiosity.

All this has enabled me to trust and appreciate the Shambhala practices more, to bring the grief, the fear, the sorrow at what is unfolding on a global scale, to the cushion. To trust more and more that having people over for dinner is more important than saving food, and to have a greater awareness of my neighbors.

Yes, I still have a solar oven in my attic and spend way too much time in my garden, but I am striving to balance that with genuine practice where I can fully express my longing for an enlightened society that supports and includes the natural world. Meanwhile, if you want to help me try out my solar oven, come on over. We’ll cook up a feast and invite the neighbors.

~~
Sara DemetrySara Demetry
is a mindfulness-oriented psychotherapist, meditator, gardener, foodie, and is dabbling in the art of fermentation. She is an active member of the Dorje Kasung in the Gesar and Desung Arms. She lives with her husband and two cats in Barnet, VT near Karme Choling.

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9 responses to “ Confessions of a Would Be “Prepper” ”
  1. Lisa Harris
    Nov 19, 2014
    Reply

    I love this, Sara! It’s a great reminder of not only the sense of hopelessness that comes with today’s challenges, but also how we can choose to live our lives in spite of those feelings.

  2. Emily Takahshi
    Nov 9, 2014
    Reply

    Sara, thank you for this beautifully written and articulate article about how you have looked the issue of climate change squarely in the eye, while holding your mind to the vision of how to go about creating enlightened society. You are clearly already a leader in how to bring the two together! I wanted to let you know that we are hosting a Salon on Climate Change and Society in Boulder next weekend (11/16) because we felt, like you, that it was time to bring this discussion front and center. Our teachings seem tailor made to address the challenges with warriorship, in all its forms. It seems that it is about working together, not individually, that will help us forward. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Alex Anderson
    Nov 9, 2014
    Reply

    Excellent article Sara. I have worked with this issue for years but have been unable to express the apparent dilemma as well as you have. Also thanks to Kelly, ‘preparing for this intelligently is not ignoring enlightened society’.

    Cheers to all!

  4. Susan McCaffrey
    Nov 8, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks, Sarah, for showing your heart.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have the same concerns/questions/exploration and it’s comforting to see it in plain writing here in Shambhala. I’m coming for the feast, too!

  6. Sara,

    Great work. It’s good that people can speak about their concerns – which are founded in logic. I am quite concerned about peak oil (how can we continually increase usage of a finite commodity without running out? Will alternative sources keep up this lifestyle?) and the collapse of the Western currency system. In the long run both will be good, but it will be a long and painful road. I think it’s great that you have the courage to speak out. When I discuss this with most (but definitely not all) Shambhalians, they just think I’m crazy. I think they’re not really paying attention.

    On the plus side, David Wimberly helped organize a Transition program at the Shambhala School in Halifax. It was attended by 30 people, about half Shambhala members. The Ashe Acharya was there. So it is part of our culture in a slightly embarrassed way. Soon it will be more open, thanks to people like you willing to point out the truth.

    And yes – I’ve thought long and hard about that fundamental issue. Preparing for this intelligently is not ignoring enlightened society – we just have to do it for the good of the world.

  7. Kristine McC
    Nov 6, 2014
    Reply

    I am coming for feast :)

  8. What a fantastic article! Thank you for saying what has been my experience for the last three years, at least. I still wake in the middle of the night wondering what the “collapse” will look like, too take very short showers, drive only when necessary, and have tried to save up beans and rice (until the mice got in ate them). I know we as a species will have to adapt, and I am ready to try. I’m hoping to learn how to share the knowledge that it will become a necessity to adapt with those in the younger generation who doesn’t yet see this coming. (and there are many, I’m afraid). But mostly I’ve dedicated myself to spreading enlightened society and acceptance of each other in my music making and teaching. I hope we meet some day, Sara!

  9. Thanks Sara!


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