Human evolution is now at its most critical crossroad. We are facing a world where converging crises threaten our survival as a species. Within a generation, according to the World Bank’s most recent report, temperatures will rise 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit and perhaps seven degrees in fewer than 100 years. As oceans rise and food production becomes less dependable, mass migrations will challenge every strategy we know to maintain some kind of stability.
Our inertia in the face of climate change has caused us to sit passively by as the point of no return has come and gone.
Even at the age of 61 many of these cataclysmic changes will happen or at least begin within my lifetime.
If we face these facts honestly we return to the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves. Why are we here and what is the purpose of life? These are the questions that Roy Scranton poses in his sobering essay, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.”
The Anthropocene is a new term for the epoch in which we now live—an epoch that has seen human beings become a global geological force powerful enough to knock our climate out of balance.
In light of these changes Scranton asks what it will mean to be human as we respond to an unrecognizable world that is hostile to life as we know it? Contemplating our individual deaths and the finality of our extinction as a species is forcing us to answer these questions.
Who will we become and how will we behave in a world that presents humans with precious few options for survival? Scranton answered this question as an Army private on duty in Baghdad reading the Hagakure, an 18th century treatise on Samurai conduct. It’s author, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily…. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.”
So, how does this relate to yoga? The Hagakure and yoga both direct the aspiring human being to gain mastery of over his or her nervous system. Toning our nervous systems through meditation and conscious action helps us to face death and achieve the freedom of knowing how to live.
Jesus the Nazarene also spoke prophetically when he proclaimed that “the meek will inherit the earth.” I read this as the “cooperative” will inherit the earth.
As yogis the great mysterious creative force that gave us birth beckons us to embrace impermanence, our ultimate death. In so doing we are guided to live lives that transcend our ego driven pursuit of wealth and power. Jimi Hendrix put it aptly, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”
We are being called to a higher level of existence. We are being called to face our finest hour—the hour when we, as human beings no longer pursue the eternal in the transient—an hour when we will mature and ripen into the god-likeness that is our destiny.
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Here is the link to Roy Scranton’s essay: