Note: e19 reality artwork by Karla Claudio-Betancourt
[frogs 2017 05 22, Preston River, QC]
Welcome to the conscient podcast. My name is Claude Schryer.
Season 1 was about exploring how the arts contribute to environmental awareness and action.
I produced 3 episodes in French, 15 in English as well as a series of bilingual blogs and videos. You can see and hear them at https://www.conscient.ca/.
Season 2 is about accepting reality, working through ecological grief and charting a path forward.
Today you’ll hear episode 1, called reality. It touches upon our perception of reality, the possibility of human extinction, eco anxiety and eco grief, hope, arts, storytelling and the wisdom of indigenous cultures.
This poetic layering of ideas and sound is how I make sense of life and the world around me.
A complete transcript of this episode, including weblinks to the source each of quotation and field recording, can be found in the episode notes.
The rest of season 2 will feature interviews with thought leaders, in English ou en francais, about their responses and reactions to episode 1.
This is where I will be fleshing out some of the questions I raise in the episode with experts and thought leaders. Please stay tuned.
Veuillez noter que cette émission est également disponible en français.
[e11 Arrival 2017 09 19, Dash-8, Ottawa Airport, ON]
Journalist Jack Miles, If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
- Reality, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” Instead of being the method through which we observe a thing, reality is the nature or truth of this thing.
[e55 crôute, 2018 01 28, Duhamel QC]
Definition of Reality in Buddhism, Wikipedia
- Buddhism seeks to address any disparity between a person’s view of reality and the actual state of things.
[e97 raven 2018 07 24 Saturna Island, BC]
Writer Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change
- We must tune in to our ability to see beyond the physical reality that surrounds us and awaken to the vast unseen world that exists.
[e169 chorus 2018 05 26 Duhamel, QC]
Cultural theorist Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
- Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human. It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species. This brings about a completely new sense of reality and value.
Historian Paul Krause (also known as Hesiod), Francis Bacon’s Philosophy of Scientific Conquest
- For Francis Bacon, man is superior to nature. But man is also alienated from nature. Nature is harsh and unforgiving and something that needs to be conquered. Rather than seeing man as part of the web of nature, Bacon sees man as existing in a natural empire.
[chainsaw, 2016 12 04, Duhamel QC]
[ice falling, 1990 North Bay, ON]
Political science professor Thomas Homer-Dixon, Commanding Hope
- Today’s globe-spanning crises all stem from common sources: beliefs and values that are too self-centered, political systems that are too hidebound, economies that are too rapacious, and technologies that are too dirty for a small, crowded planet with dwindling resources and fraying natural systems.
[birdsong, 2020 03 14, Biosphere2, AZ]
Activist Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
- What the climate needs to avoid collapse, is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources and what our economic model demands, to avoid collapse, is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.
Philosophy professor Todd Dufresne, For the Love of Wisdom: Climate Change and the Revenge of History
- We’re all being “radicalized by reality.” It’s just that for some people it takes a personal experience of fire, landslide, or hurricane to get their attention. I’m afraid it takes mass death and extinction.
- Whoever survives these experiences will have a renewed appreciation for nature, for the external world, and for the necessity of collectivism in the face of mass extinction. There’s hope in this — although I admit it’s wrapped in ugliness.
[2 appel, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1996 Montréal QC]
Environmental humanities professor Jennifer Atkinson, Facing It
- Eco-anxiety and climate grief are sometimes framed as “disorders” but in fact these feelings typically arise from an accurate perception of our ecological crisis. It may be more appropriate to identify eco-anxiety as a “moral emotion” – a sign of compassion, attachment to life, and desire for justice.
- Our future remains unwritten, and by embracing the unknown we are better able to reframe our thinking in empowering ways.
Writer Rebecca Solnit, Hope is an embrace of the unknown: Rebecca Solnit on living in dark times
- Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.
[33 nuage, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1996 Montréal QC]
Dharma teacher Catherine Ingram, Facing Extinction
- Love, what else is there to do now? Here we are, some of the last humans who will experience this beautiful planet since Homo sapiens began their journey some 200,000 years ago. Now, in facing extinction of our species, you may wonder if there is any point in going on.
Journalist Dahl Jamail, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption
- My heart breaks for what we have done and are doing to the planet. I grieve, yet this ongoing process has become more like peeling back the layers of an onion — there is always more work to do, as the crisis we have created for ourselves continues to unfold. And somewhere along the line I surrendered my attachment to any results that might stem from my work. I am hope-free.
Journalist Richard Heinberg, The Big Picture
- Hope is not just an expectation of better times ahead; it is an active attitude, a determination to achieve the best possible outcome regardless of the challenges one is facing.
[protest, 2017 01 21 Ottawa, ON]
Activist Greta Thunberg, Message to world leaders at #DavosAgenda
- For me, hope is the feeling that keeps you going, even though all odds may be against you. For me, hope comes from action not just words. For me, hope is telling it like it is.
[8 capital, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1990 Montréal QC]
Law Professor Shalanda Baker, Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition
- Will we redesign systems to replicate the current structures of power and control, or will we reimagine our system to benefit those are so often left out of discussions regarding systems design?
[49 temps, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1998 Montréal QC]
Writer Britt Wray, Climate tipping points: the ones we actually want
- When a small change in a complex system produces an enormous shift, that new pathway gets reinforced by positive feedback loops, which lock in all that change. That’s why tipping points are irreversible. You can’t go back to where you were before. A tipping point that flips non-linearly could be the thing that does us in, but it could also be the thing that allows us to heal our broken systems and better sustain ourselves.
[7 brassage, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1996 Manitoba]
Public policy professor Eric Beinhocker, I Am a Carbon Abolitionist
- Humankind is in a race between two tipping points. The first is when the Earth’s ecosystems and the life they contain tip into irreversible collapse due to climate change. The second is when the fight for climate action tips from being just one of many political concerns to becoming a mass social movement. The existential question is, which tipping point will we hit first?
[41 profondeur, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1980s Ice breaker, Nunavut]
Zen teacher David Loy, Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis
- The Buddhist solution to this predicament is not to get rid of the self, because there is no such thing to get rid of. The sense of self needs to be deconstructed (‘forgotten’ in meditation) and reconstructed (replacing the ‘three poisons’ of greed, ill will and delusion with generosity, loving-kindness and the wisdom that recognizes our interdependence).
- Just as there is no self to get rid of, we cannot ‘return to nature’ because we’ve never been apart from it, but we can realize our nonduality with it and begin to live in ways that accord with that realization.
[43 réveil, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1990s Church bells, Europe]
Actor Dominic Champagne, Le fond de ma pensée (in French only)
- Knowing that I will be leaving my three sons a world in worse condition than the one I inherited from my parents, knowing that we are contemporaries in a world where our actions are jeopardizing the future of life on Earth and knowing that the situation may get worse, what am I doing with my life? How can I keep putting on shows and spinning balloons on my nose as if nothing had happened?
Journalist Julia Rosen, An artist set out to paint climate change. She ended up on a journey through grief
- Society tends to see climate change as a scientific issue, rather than a cultural and political challenge that demands our full humanity — the kind more often explored and addressed through art.
Composer R. Murray Schafer, Au dernier vivant les biens
- Look at war. People who want to use noise as a kind of weaponry. To frighten them. To scare them. To beat them down. To pulverize them. If you want to destroy people. One of the first resorts you have is to noise.
Artist David Haley, Going beyond Earthly
- We now need aesthetics to sensitize us to other ways of life and we need artists to sensitize us to the shape of things to come.
[28 liquide, Au dernier vivant les biens, 1998 Montréal QC]
Artist Diego Galafassi, How the arts might help us grapple with climate change
- Art is a space where we can ask very difficult questions and explore things in a more open-ended way and not be committed to solutions.
Artist Lance Gharavi, In a climate crisis, artists have a duty to speak up – but what should they say?
- While individual works of art, ‘however genius,’ may have value, they won’t do the trick. What we need is for all art to be about climate change.
[Marche sonore 1, Grenouilles, 1992 Montréal QC]
Composer Robert Normandeau, Marche sonore 1
- It’s a bit like taking a frog, which is a cold-blooded animal, and putting it in a jar of water and heating the water, little by little. The frog will get used to the temperature rising and rising, and it will not notice that the temperature has risen and one day the temperature will be too hot for it and it will die. Therefore, our civilization, in terms of sound, looks a bit like that, that is to say we get used to it, we get used to it, we get used to it and at some point, we are going to have punctured eardrums.
Historian Yuval Harari, Why Did Humans Become The Most Successful Species On Earth?
- If you think about any religion, any economic system, any political system, at the basis you will find some fictional story about God, about money, about human rights, about a nation. All these things are fictional stories. They are not a biological reality, but it’s a very powerful and convincing and benign fiction that helps us organize our political and legal systems in the modern world.
Writer Charles Eisenstein, To Reason with a Madman
- Expository prose generates resistance, but stories touch a deeper place in the soul. They flow like water around intellectual defenses and soften the soil so that dormant visions and ideals can take root.
Writer Richard Wagamese, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations
- To use the act of breathing to shape air into sounds that take on the context of language that lifts and transports those who hear it, takes them beyond what they think and know and feel and empowers them to think and feel and know even more. We’re storytellers, really. That’s what we do. That is our power as human beings.
[fireplace, 2021 01 26, Duhamel QC]
Composer Claude Schryer, story from participation at How does culture contribute to sustainable futures?
- Here’s a story. Once upon a time… I think it was during the fall of 2019, I was at a meeting about how the arts and cultural sector, and in particular indigenous traditional knowledge community, could play a much larger role in the fight against climate change. I was very fortunate to be there, and I was very excited to learn more. So, we sat around a table, not quite a circle, but close enough, and each person shared knowledge and some stories. I spoke about how the institution that I worked for was trying to become greener and walk its talk on environmental issues. Others spoke about issues like built heritage and intangible culture and hat kind of thing. Then, the representative from an indigenous cultural organization took my breath away when he said that it would ‘likely take as long to resolve the ecological crisis as it did to create it’. Now, I played this back in my mind: take as long to resolve the ecological crisis as it did, or as it does, to create it. How is this possible? and then I said: ‘but, but we do not have that kind of time’. Or do we? We all looked at each other in silence. I’ll never forget that moment.
[e105 thunder, 2018 08 04, Duhamel QC]
Activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Our survival utterly depends on living in nature, not apart from it
- It’s important to recognize how closely linked environment, health, economics, culture and rights are in our society. The Earth is a living, breathing entity just the same as our bodies are. Our survival utterly depends on living in nature, not apart from it.
Writer Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
- The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness.
[frogs 2017 05 22, Preston River, QC]
Dharma teacher Catherine Ingram, Facing Extinction :
- Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life. Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We are imbued with great creativity, brilliant communication, and extraordinary appreciation of and talent for music and other forms of art.
- There is no other known creature whose spectrum of consciousness is as wide and varied as our own.
I agree with Catherine that we humans are conscient beings, with an unlimited capacity for, yes, greed, cruelty, ignorance and selfishness but also for kindness, compassion, wisdom, creativity and imagination.
My own understanding and perception of reality have been transformed since I started writing this episode.
Yuval Harari’s statement about how ‘fictional stories are not a biological reality’ shook me up and woke me up.
More and more, I now see, and more importantly, I now feel in my bones, ‘the state of things as they actually exist’, without social filters or unsustainable stories blocking the way.
So where do we go from here?
Eric Beinhocker reminded us earlier in the program that humankind is in a race between two tipping points: irreversible collapse or mass social movement.
My heart, of course, is with massive social movement, there are signs of it growing, however, my rational mind, informed by science, sees irreversible collapse as the most likely outcome. and this collapse has already begun and so we must make every effort, for the benefit of future generations, to slow down the collapse while a mass social movement grows.
Personally, my hope is that we find a way to accept reality, to work our way through ecological grief and to chart a path forward.
My dream, as zen teacher David Loy suggests, is that one day, we can ‘realize our nonduality with nature and begin to live in ways that accord with that realization’.
You’ve been listening to reality, episode 1 of season 2 of the conscient podcast. My name is Claude Schryer.
I would like to warmly thank the 28 individuals who I quoted in this program. Some of their quotes have been slightly abbreviated for concision and clarity.
I also want to thank all those who have helped me produce this episode, in particular my wife Sabrina Mathews and podcast consultant Ayesha Barmania.
Please keep in mind that this podcast is a work in progress and that I’m aware that my work has moments of incoherence, contradiction, unconscious bias, a bit of panic and some naïveté, among other things, so please feel free to challenge my assumptions, share your thoughts and join the conversation through conscient.ca.
Also keep in mind that these are troubling and challenging issues, so please do not hesitate to reach out to support groups or counselling services in your community for help.
A reminder that episode 2 (é20 réalité) is the French version of this program and episode 3 will be the first in a series of conversations with guests about their response to the reality episode.
Take good care and thanks for listening.
[e74 sky, 2018 08 04, Duhamel QC]
Thanks to Hélène Prévost and Lolita Boudreault for their support.