While pondering what I would write for April Fools’ Day, there came an email from a friend/colleague. The missive was simple: a quote from the writer-philosopher-mythologist, Joseph Campbell:
“We are in a free fall into the future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast. And always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. But all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s all a very interesting shift of perspective … joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world and everything changes.”
Who does not feel like they are in freefall into the future? This is no April Fool. Things are changing rapidly. We are besieged by political polarities, crumbling religious institutions, horrific natural disasters, nuclear crises, oil catastrophes, uprisings and revolutions against authoritarian regimes. The Chinese character for crisis is composed of two symbols, one meaning “danger” and the other “opportunity” (although linguists, as reported in Wikipedia tend to debunk this). But perhaps Joseph Campbell’s invitation to consider our freefall as a voluntary act is also saying “transform crisis into opportunity.”
There are cries among us to change back. Change back is an expected, if not healthy, response to system shifts. Even when an individual starts to make changes for the good (eating healthier, starting exercise, for example), old unhealthy patterns persist. It takes motivation to overcome the old ways. Change in couples and families doesn’t come easy either. When an individual chooses to become differentiated from unhealthy behaviors in a couple or family, the system pushes back, desiring a return to the status quo.
Likewise, societal systems push for change back. But change back to what I wonder. To the “halcyon” days of yore where the evil of slavery was denied or where Galileo was condemned for pointing out that the sun doesn’t revolve around us? Then, the monk Copernicus clarified our revolution: indeed we are not the egocentric center of the solar system. Perhaps we are due for another moment of truth, that, as the Sage Jesus said, “the Meek shall inherit the earth.” Maybe the bottom line is not the bottom line we think it is—the bottom line is not power, control, possessions, domination of the earth or all its resources. Maybe the bottom line is to “joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world.”
And, I would add, we participate in the sorrows when we, in humility, understand we are all in the same boat. A boat where we all experience storms of sorrow and can also experience aliveness and joy. It is the boat of humanity that has the same destination for all. None of us will get out of life alive, but meanwhile we can live life, as Zorba the Greek would say, as the Full Catastrophe!