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Review: Collapsing Consciously by Carolyn Baker

Carolyn Baker writes with passion, insight and courage about a topic that most people turn away from – the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspect of what she and many others call “collapse.”

Collapse is the convergence in our times of economic unraveling, resource depletion and human created climate instability that could bring the destruction of the world economy, major governments or even industrial civilization as a whole.

It’s scary stuff and you won’t find it on the nightly news.

But outside the mainstream media, there are many writers exploring the economic and environmental aspects of this collapse (also called the Great Unraveling, the Great Turning or the Long Descent). Yet Baker steps boldly into that territory where few dare to go, addressing with clarity and compassion the importance of emotional and spiritual preparation for what lies ahead.

Collapsing Consciously

Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times by Carolyn Baker, 208 pp, $19.95.

Baker’s newest book, Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times is a collection of essays and meditations that expands and enriches the ideas in two of her previous books (Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition and Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.) It’s an important read, both for those already immersed in the concept of collapse and those just discovering the depth of our predicament.

Our culture is relentlessly positive. We’re trained to trust there will always be a solution, to believe in happy endings, to turn away from what is painful or frightening. Joanna Macy calls it a “cult of optimism.” It leaves us unprepared for life’s challenges and sorrows, in ordinary times and even more for the cataclysmic changes and challenges our future holds.

As Barbara Ehrenreich writes in Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, “There is a vast difference between positive thinking and existential courage.”

Baker shows us how to walk the path of existential courage, in the face of whatever life hands us, including and especially living in today’s uncertain and disturbing times.

In her opening essay, The Joy of Mindful Preparation, Baker writes,

The tremendous losses we are likely to encounter will result in savoring and appreciating incredibly simple experiences and sensations, and doing so is likely to evoke deep feelings of joy…the more we lose in the future, the more crucial it will become to savor what we still have.

Other essays in the book expand on this theme. In Hoping for Happiness or Metabolizing Meaning, Baker writes, “what matters is not ‘happiness’ but meaning…somehow our lives and experiences make more sense, and interconnected patterns of our life’s journey begin to reveal themselves… (this) may provide a long-term sense of fulfillment.” This essay concludes with the question, “How do we find meaning in collapse? One way is by asking what collapse wants from us. What does it want us to be, as well as do?”

Baker’s essay Getting Real About Our Predicament continues this theme with the idea that “we need to stop focusing on physical survival and focus instead on transition from the old paradigm to the new one.”

In the last essays, A Culture of Two-Year-Olds and the Gifts of Collapse (part l and ll), Baker asks, “What are the ‘gifts’ of collapse?” and offers her response to this question.

Baker makes an analogy to the indigenous practice of initiation, an ordeal or challenge that calls forth the transformation from child to adulthood. She doesn’t see the coming collapse as the end of our species but instead as a worldwide initiation into a more mature human existence requiring humans to leave behind a culture based on personal consumption to arrive at a time of human renewal.

She invites us to “hold in our hearts and minds – as much as is humanly possible – the reality of the pain collapse will entail alongside the unimaginable opportunities it offers.”

The thread and theme running through this book is not so much to show us how to survive the coming collapse of our civilization as we have known it, but rather to ask us what can we learn from facing that collapse and how can we grow through it.

Most importantly, Baker invites us to consider how can we contribute to what may arise on the far side.

Collapsing Consciously is a map and guide for living a deep, full and joyful life within these turbulent times and contributing our best and fullest selves to a possible future. This book is a compass to carry with us as we all travel together this road less traveled.

– Dianne Monroe, Transition Voice

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