A call for contributors: Pathways through chaos

Chaos. It’s a strong word to use. But these days it really feels like our world is descending into chaos and there is little hope of changing it for the better.

Start with the threat of climate change, which is already unavoidable and does and will continue to affect every living thing. Much of it is caused by our excessive use of fossil fuels, which we continue to extract from the Earth in ever riskier ways.

Add violence and injustice done to people who stand up for their democratic rights, whether that be the right for political representation or the right to civic liberties.

Top that with our disconnection from the food we eat and the processes that go into growing and preparing it.

No wonder many of us feel uneasy, angry, overwhelmed and powerless.

Do you recognise that feeling?

I recognise it in myself and in many of my friends. For me, my daily practice of building relationships with the Earth and her inhabitants is very encouraging. So I came up with the idea of building a resource of spiritual practices for people who need some balm for the soul.

The four Pathways

In this crazy world, we all need ways to strengthen our souls. We need practices and new habits that will nourish us and give us the courage to go and out there and act on what we believe in.

Four Pathways through a chaotic world: Love, Sorrow, Transformation, and Service. Image by Edward Farrow.

Four Pathways through a chaotic world: Love, Sorrow, Transformation, and Service. Image by Edward Farrow.

I see four Pathways through the chaos: Love, Sorrow, Transformation and Service.

1. The Pathway of Love

In order to survive and even thrive in this uncertain world, we need to strengthen our ties to the people – be they plant, animal or human – that we love. Investing time and energy in the things we are passionate about feeds our souls and makes them resilient. The Pathway of Love is our most important task and our greatest resource.

2. The Pathway of Sorrow

Loving something inevitably brings us to sorrow. So much of what we love is vulnerable and under threat. We feel sorrow for the forests that die, for the extinction of our animal kin, for injustices done to people all around us. Love often hurts.

But our society doesn’t give us much opportunity to express or honour our grief for the world. We will need to create a new Pathway of Sorrow, with practices that give us space to express our heavy emotions. The feelings we can express weigh on us less heavily, so we can stand up straight in the face of uncertainty.

3. The Pathway of Transformation

Love and sorrow naturally lead us to the realisation that we are not alone. We are an inextricable part of the natural world. The separation we have imposed upon ourselves as a culture is an illusion.

On the Pathway of Transformation, we need to find rituals and practices that will help us remember who we truly are. Because realising that we are part of the greater whole and can draw upon all its resources of love and creativity makes us so much stronger.

4. The Pathway of Service

From this realisation, we can confidently step out into the world and dedicate ourselves to its service. Whatever it is that we feel deeply called to do is a gift that is sorely needed in the world.

We can’t wait much longer. We all need to step onto the Pathway of Service, to give what we carry inside us and to create community around the things we most care about.

Building the Pathways together

These are the needs I see. And I know that many people around the world are already thinking and writing and practising along these lines.

I have started to add some practices to the Pathways already. But I could really do with your help.

Do you know of any practices, teachings, books, or other resources that will help people along any of these Pathways? If so, please share them.

Write your suggestions in the comment box below, in the comment boxes of each of the Steps on the Four Pathways, or send them in an e-mail to pathways [at] westacre [dot] org [dot] uk.

If the practice is your own, please make that clear so you can be properly credited. If you suggest a resource from another writer, group or tradition, please acknowledge your source with a book title, article reference, or web link.

And finally, if you think this is a good idea, let your friends know about it. The more people we get building the Pathways together, the richer and more useful they will become.

I look forward to meeting you on one of the Pathways.

Comment · RSS · TrackBack

  1. Liz said,

    17 August, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    I know you know about Joanna Macey The Work that Connects. She considers the grief and the gratitude we need to feel.

    Just looking at things in nature is good I think and tuning in to them – I’ve picked up a couple of exhausted bees this summer and had no fear of being stung (foolishly maybe)

  2. Barry Patterson said,

    17 August, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    Small acts can change the world & make us free.

    I always remember something that Philip C-G said at a Winter Assembly some years back which really resonates with my view. He was saying that when the system is in chaos; when it becomes unpredictable, unstable & complex then projections, predictions & models become less powerful as “management tools.” This is when small, seemingly inconsequential factors can have disproportionate effects. Unexpected tipping points occur from one state or a situation to another. It’s dangerous, but it also has great potential for tranformation. This is when small, personal acts have a significance that we ourselves can’t see. We all make a difference. Also, it is at times like this when the situation is unstable & delicately balanced that spiritual & magical practices become more powerful. Much more powerful.

    What does this boil down to in practical terms? The things we do, the choices we make in such a time are more significant. The personal becomes political. Our *own daily habits become powerful, magical. This when we need to practice mindful awareness & to try our best to be consistent, even in matters which would usually be considered private. It’s warriorship, but not necessarily the bravery of those who engage in direct action & protest (honour & praise to them, love & strength be theirs), but also & maybe even more importantly, the bravery of those who face their day to day fear & uncertainty & still do their best; who continue to do what they know is right, even if they can’t see any positive effects. Keep calm & carry on, is the war-time motto made famous by Barter Books of Alnwick. The crisis which we face now is not global war & the threat of immediate destruction, but nonetheless it is equally urgent. Our civilisation as we know it is not sustainable. Most people don’t want to face up to that harsh reality & admit to the chaos, uncertainty & fear that this knowledge brings, we want to just carry on minding our own business & hope that everything will be all right. We tell ourselves that the ultimate outcome of our age of crisis is out of our hands & in the laps of the influential, the powerful, the wealthy. That we are insignificant. This is not so.

    We number millions & our daily choices, individually microscopic, accumulate to generate the future. It is easy to feel vulnerable in times like these, but that vulnerability does not mean that we aren’t powerful. Awesomely powerful. I call this the sweep of history. The sum-synergy of our actions creates the world of the future. Small things matter on the large scale. Top-down is an illusion of power, but it never offers us the courageous leadership we so need. Top-down tries to organise & control a messy world of many meshing systems & it believes it’s own propaganda. Bottom-up is & always has been true. Courage & power arise within us when we allow ourselves to feel our pain, our confusion, our doubt, our loss & our love. Our love is more primal than all those others. We feel pain because we love. We feel confusion because we allow ourselves to become attached to what we think we love & then we try to simplify a situation which won’t be druv. We feel doubt & loss & many other things because our deep love, the love which wells up from our deepest nature brings pain & sadness up with it. That love has no specific object or focus, it is a force of nature, Awen-Shakti-Grace-Bodhicitta. When we fixate on Some Thing We Love we begin to distort that natural eneregy. As spiritual practitioners I see our practice as being to clear the obstructions to the free flow of that Love, which is inherently wise & healing. There are, of course many ways to this.

    Faced with the grind of day to day work & routine, we forget that we are primordially innocent; ultimately free beings who just happen to be living this way right now. Faced with the so called news we are cowed, scared & ashamed by the injustice, oppression & destructive greediness we are shown every day. Instead of allowing this to oppress us, this is our call to wake-up. This is our call to be brave. This is our call to be, loving, creative, patient & good humoured in the face of provocation. IMHO the strength to do this can only come from our spiritual &/or magical practice. (Whether or not we call it that, maybe we call it something else.)

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Do my actions really make a difference? How can meditation make the world a better place? Just look what it’s like out there! The point of what I’m saying is that when we feel like this we’re getting closer, not further away from the real meaning. My idea is not to create a stick with which to beat myself; the protestant work ethic subverts this process. We need to be gentle with ourselves, while maintaining our motivation. It isn’t helpful to judge ourselves or others. I’m talking about grounding ourselves in simple things, knowing the direction in which we need to travel & taking steps.

    I’d like to finish by recommending 3 pieces to read:

    The Star Thrower, Loren Eiesely
    Edited version here:

    Non-Dual Ecology, John Mclellan

    The Genuine Heart of Sadness, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Leave a Comment