(Part Two : These things which move the spirit)
It is no wonder that the curse God puts upon Eve (and all women) in the Book of Genesis is that of painful childbirth. So fundamental is this trauma to both mother and child, our earliest story-tellers had to find some explanation for this interweave of life and pain which we are all afflicted with from the very beginning.
Whether the birth trauma, or episodes that follow, there is no question that our lives are punctuated by distressing events; violence, loss, physical injury, psychic pain, the death of loved ones, are all part of the average human life. Every person will experience some of these events, and some will seem to get more than their fair share. There is no way to predict who will see more pain in a lifetime, though environment will dictate a higher likelihood of some traumas than others. And despite the fact we will all experience some amount of pain in our lives, many people go out of their way to take more upon themselves, unconsciously and often in the name of a higher ideal, a better lifestyle, or personal power. We don’t see it that way, often rationalizing a period of sacrifice for a future in which we find contentment. All that’s standing between us and our own private utopia is just a few hard years where we work longer hours, or perhaps we pony up our physical freedom in order to make a political point. And in so doing we damage ourselves, lending our bodies needlessly to a future which can never be made real.
I have lived in the delusion of a politics which demanded that I personally witness and experience trauma as part of conscious action. After years of writing letters, protesting, marching and making activist culture, I made a choice in my twenties to engage on the periphery of illegal activity, the kind that frees animals from cages, but also the kind that involves vandalism and arson in order to strike back at companies doing ecological harm. To be around and aware of these kinds of activities requires an immersion in trauma, an identification with the sufferings of animals as well as the forests, the waters and the very soil which is being poisoned by human activities. On top of this is the continual fear of arrest, of police raids and prison, which reinforces an insular culture that wears post-traumatic stress disorder as a badge of pride.
The paradox of course is that in order to create a more stable, more sustainable earth, my activist compatriots made our own personal lives unstable and unsustainable. We called that a worthwhile tradeoff because a future existed in which we would be redeemed, and able to live free. But of course, that’s a delusion, like so much of our suffering – created by our individual and paradoxical needs. I could just have easily made material success my goal and worked myself to an early heart attack instead. The examples of human folly in this regard are endless.
I am fortunate to have escaped physically unscathed from this period of my life, for I was never directly involved in unlawful activity, though I lived with and loved those who were. When the arrests finally did come in 2005, long after we had finished with that bit of rebellion, I spent the next two years supporting friends in US courts and jails. I continue even now to support those still imprisoned and will do so for the next several years.
When I look back from outside that experience I see how easy it was to take the fear of ecological harm – and with some help from my friends, turned that belief into a decade of suffering. The Buddhist aphorism, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” is not lost on me as I sift through these experiences, noting that the pain, fear, and devastation I lived with for many years, was so totally unnecessary and counter-productive.