Sometimes at night when sleep escapes me I walk along the road beside the bay. The cars are long gone, and there is only the sound of the wind and the egrets squawking in the nearby wetlands. Early this morning I encountered a family of deer watching me in the long grass, before they vanished into the silence. Then I found the blood moon eclipsed through the trees, an elemental mystery that reaches deep into our ancestral memories, before our consciousness was obscured by science and reason. In the pristine darkness I could sense an earlier land that was not cut up by houses, lawns, or driveways, where pathways were more like the deer trails that run from the edge of my garden into the deeper forest.
I long to return to this land that lies just beyond where my feet can reach. I long to escape back to when the moon and the stars were the only lights known in the darkness, and my senses were more awake, when I would watch like the deer. In the early morning moonlit shadows I encountered this previous self and we walked together until I found myself climbing the hill back to the lights of my house and then a few hours sleep before dawn came calling.
We wait at the edge of climate crisis and possible social collapse, wait in the primal insecurity and unknowing that is beginning to touch the threads of our lives. The pandemic has taught us about the fragility of our systems—how easily they can fracture, how quickly hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed, food lines lengthen, global supply chains break. Even now, with vaccines rising and our longing to escape this trauma and return to normal, a shadow remains, expressing itself in conspiracy theories and the discords of social media. What is the “new normal?” We have entered a bleaker world without fully realizing where we are travelling, or understanding the resilience we need to journey together.
The eclipse of a blood moon used to be seen as an omen. The ancient Chinese believed that heaven and human beings are one, that our destiny and the sky are linked, and such an event could herald a catastrophe. Walking in the half-light I know nothing of omens, but I do sense how our world has changed, passed a tipping point that belongs to our collective destiny. That is why it touches a longing to return to a simpler time, when the Earth was numinous, full of signs that touched the edge of our consciousness, “Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”[i] But our present reality is harsher, full of the facts of the air becoming toxic, the water filling with plastic, the earth poisoned. Here the only mystery is how we can so easily ignore these signs, continue walking so blindly into an age of extinction.
Can science and technology really save us with their dreams of carbon capture and clean energy, when it is science and technology that have taken us to this cliff edge of continuing ecocide? The myth of eternal economic growth holds us in its grip, blinding us to a collective vision of a more sustainable way of life. These are dreams that have become nightmares, and yet we do not dare to acknowledge that they are just stories we are telling ourselves. When I walk in the half-light of the moon and my feet tell me of earlier stories of a living Earth, there is a sense of belonging that I lose in the sunlight.
For how many decades will we have to travel through a toxic landscape until we can return to where the streams run clear? When we look into a future seven generations or more can we glimpse this garden? Will my grandchildren’s grandchildren be able to play where the air is clean? What will it cost us to return, to forget our desire to conquer nature, and remember that we are in essence bonded together with the Earth in one primal consciousness? And that consciousness is not rational, does not always follow the laws of science, but is also magical, speaking sometimes in symbols, where mountains and rivers can be spirits and everything is sacred.
In this present time of the great unraveling there are many threads to follow, degrowth and reciprocity, social collapse and resilience, rewilding, agroecology, to name a few of the opportunities for the future. How these threads will be woven into a new tapestry for humanity is the great adventure for the coming decades, part of the Great Turning as we return to a life sustaining civilization—one born not from colonization and exploitation, but a relationship to the living Earth. But we should also include the older, pre-rational part of our consciousness, because it is here that the Earth can speak to us, tell us Her stories and Her secrets. It is here that the sacred names of creation, the names that carry the healing properties of plants and the instinctual wisdom of animals, can once again become part of our shared language.
Part of the tragedy of centuries of separation is that we have become disconnected from the wisdom of the Earth. And we need Her ancient knowing if we are to walk together, both in sunlight and moonlight, in the world of reason and the world of dreaming. This way of knowing used to be shared around the firelight, told in stories, passed down from generation to generation. It was all as natural as breathing, not needing to be remembered because never forgotten. How could you forget the wind on your face or the songs of birds? How could you forget the rise and fall of the tide? These were not stories written in books, but lived from morning until dusk, until dreamtime wove another texture into the firelight.
Until we forgot we were always awake to a multidimensional world that carried a deep sense of belonging, a belonging we shared with plants in the garden and the animals in the forest. The other morning, walking early, I saw a pair of raccoons stealthily padding across a neighbor’s lawn, and I could feel our kinship, just as when I found a fox asleep on a round rock beside our flower bed. This living presence speaks to me, reminds me. I feel that it is this landscape which we need as we travel into an uncertain future. It can sustain us in ways that our rational self does not understand, but our older consciousness welcomes.
With the waxing and waning of the moon we are a part of a time that is cyclical, that does not try to rush us through the days. And a blood moon happens only two to four times a year, when the shadow of the eclipse creates an orange-red glow. Watching in the silent half-light of the night I have lost the clutter of my surface life, the noise that so easily consumes my attention. I can sense how the Earth is not a problem to be solved, but a living being in distress, wounded through our abuses, our endless desires, but waiting for our return, to return to a place of balance where we can once again recognize how we are part of the living community we call life. This must be the foundational step of any journey towards healing, the single step that gives us the support, the knowing that will provide real resilience as we journey together in these darkening days.
The next night I was able to sleep, and when I awoke the moon was again present through the trees, its silver light coming into my room. It was almost full, but no longer blood. I did not sense any omen but a mystery—friend to poets, lovers, and night wanderers. As we rush towards climate catastrophe there is another path to follow, simple, almost hidden like the deer trail into the forest. But it requires us to watch, to listen, to be attentive in ways that awaken us to an older sense within our bodies and our souls, and within the Earth Herself. Here we are a part of the land, not trying to dominate or control, but relearning the old ways, relearning the language that was with us from the beginning, before we forgot.
© 2021 The Golden Sufi Center
[i] Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 3, Scene 2.
Teaser photo credit: By Giuseppe Donatiello from Oria (Brindisi), Italy – Total lunar eclipse on January 21, 2019, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76018812