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Fukushima, Fallout, and the Spiritual Challenge of Nuclear Disaster

Fukushima, Fallout, and the Spiritual Challenge of Nuclear Disaster

As news of the devastation in Japan from earthquake, tsunami, and now nuclear radiation is revealed, it’s hard to know how to really absorb the reality of this event. Yes, there are ceaseless, bloody wars. Yes, there are oil spills and fish die-offs and mountains being scraped off the map, and people around the planet with no homes, no jobs, no water. Yes, we hear these things on the daily news, read them on facebook or blogs. We sign petitions, we send relief money, we rail at the powers- that-be who “don’t get it”.

And now, there is this- the prospect that the water, air, and land of our planet will be poisoned for generations. Not for decades, not for centuries, but for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no way to conceive this, really. Our hearts and minds have no way to truly understand. We don’t know what to do with all this knowing.

When we talk to friends or family about our grief, or anger, or fear, so many of them can’t hear, it seems. Conversations are diverted, we are told that there is nothing to do, so why talk?

The spiritual challenge of this time of is not about what we are to do right now, though of course there are actions, decisions, missions that we need to take as humankind to respond to this reality.

The spiritual question is not “what shall we do?” but “who shall we be?”.

How shall we exercise our hearts to hold the enormity of this destruction, AND the enormity of the miraculous beauty of our world? To bear witness to pain, to fear, to grief, AND to the heroism, strength, and compassion of those acting to ease suffering. And to our own pain, our own strength?

Deep ecologist Joanna Macy has been, for decades, an activist on nuclear issues. She talks about nuclear weapons, power, and waste as the “Poison Fire” of our time, and suggests that it offers an opportunity for a deepening of our spiritual practice, and even a blessing for humankind.

We are presented with the opportunity to grow our faithfulness and love for our world in our willingness to bear witness.  We can learn to breathe through our fear in order to perceive the profound interconnectedness we have with all of life. We can learn to see ourselves as vessels of compassion, of the holy, rather than as needy consumers, or powerless victims.  The ultimate blessing of this time, she says, is that “it can be a means of living into the promise of the consciousness with which we have been endowed”.

This does not mean that we become fearless, or without anger or grief. Indeed, she warns against what she calls the “premature equanimity” of some spiritual and philosophical ideals. It does mean, however, that through our willingness to be with the suffering (the root meaning of the word “compassion”) and the beauty of our world, we come to know on a deep level the lie of separation we have been taught, and the miracle of the web of connection we are a part of.

Some say we were born into this time, in this place, to be a part of this time of the Great Unraveling, and the Great Turning. We need each other fiercely right now. When we falter, our community can step in when we need rest, can hold us when we need comfort, can work together to create a synergy of good works. Our main task is to reach out beyond our sense of aloneness to a life of connection. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, there is no being, there is only inter-being. Through that depth of understanding, we are then impassioned and empowered to do our heart’s work for the healing of our world.



{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Seeley April 4, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I really don’t have any words to add to what you’ve said, Barbara. I just thank you for your presence and for saying what’s in the hearts of many right now.

Carolyn Treadway April 5, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thank you, Barbara, for this profound and beautiful writing. It is like a breath of pure fresh air amidst the “smog” of denial now blanketing our country, our world. My morning newspaper today told that there was no danger that fish would become radioactive, even though highly radioactive water was being discharged into the ocean where they were. It’s crazymaking! Thank you for your sanity, wisdom, and truth telling. We DO need each other fiercely right now. All blessings as you (and we) carry on The Work.

Carolyn Treadway

patriciafaye April 5, 2011 at 10:23 am

Thank You Barbara! Your expression is my own.
In Love and Blessed Unrest!

Kevin April 5, 2011 at 10:44 am

Thank you Barbara for this wonderful meditation and framing of the current issues. Gives one a moments pause to breath and reflect. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful insight.

Bill Scarvie April 5, 2011 at 10:59 am

Thanks, Barbara
Your message is a reminder that we need reflection and connection now, more than ever. I also appreciate your comment about victimhood: We dare not resign ourselves to a the life-denying forces at work in the world; instead, we must stand together, affirming life and committed to a positive future for the grandchildren of all species.

Werner April 5, 2011 at 11:12 am

We gather, we witness, we open our hearts to what is, offer our gifts, and even if what we do might not make a difference, we still do the work. Thank you for strengthening the fabric of our interconnectedness with your words of compassion and soul.

Bob on Whidbey Is. April 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Let us not deny we are the Christians in the Coliseum hearing the lions roar behind the walls and staring wide-eyed at crowd of wealth-powered blood-letters smiling above as we become their bored entertainment of the moment.

The difference we face today is the unknown of whether the pendulum can swing back.

Barbara April 6, 2011 at 5:23 am

Thanks to all who responded. And Bob, thanks in particular for your response.. I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit with what you said, because it gave me a chance to feel and think more deeply about how the world situation can affect us all.
There are so many levels of response I’ve had, but here’s the shorthand version. While I understand the anger, fear, and grief that might play a part in coming to your conclusions, for me the whole Christian and lions story of our situation now is one I can’t embrace for the following reasons:
1. The polarized story of They/Them/Evil Empire vs . We/Righteous/Innocents being led to the slaughter is classic, but in fact perpetuates and colludes with the story of separation that I was talking about in my post. The little I know of systems theory, and what I believe spiritually, does not support that kind of either/or, good/evil reality. We all, to some degree, suffer from the greed, fear, and delusion that drives those who are benefiting from Empire. To deny their humanity supports their world view, and will not ultimately foster change towards a compassionate society.
2. That same story also perpetuates the myth that the Power Over model is ultimately stronger than the Power With model of cooperation. This fosters a culture of futility and disempowerment that I am not willing to support. If we truly wish to act for collective cultural evolution, we need to be willing to envision and act with a sense of our collective co-intelligence and integrity, with consciousness of our connections to all of life.
I don’t claim to know what will happen in our world. No one does. However, I do feel that the question of who we choose to be is a vital one, no matter what happens.

Michele May 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thank you I felt a deep connection to your words and have hope that through the suffering of this planet we may all wake up to take part in her healing.

Kira November 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I’m still in the grief stage. I love nature and the redwoods and beautiful Pacific ocean where I live in Northern California. I can’t bear the thought of it being harmed. I am so sad. I feel so helpless and don’t know what to do. I wish I could stop what happened. I am also very angry that people would choose to develop things that put the whole planet at risk for financial gain. We don’t need all those things. We could live a simpler existence.

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