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Our mycelial minds




Today I was thinking that how we picture our mind is like a mushroom. We take it to be the white button we see pushing up through the leaves in the forest after the rains. But perhaps our minds are more like the mycelial network that weaves its ways underground, connecting all the living beings in the forest. Perhaps we are the fruiting bodies of mycelial awareness. Perhaps it's all, perhaps we are all, mycelial mind.


Hi everyone,


Thank you so much for subscribing to my website. As you may have noticed, my blogs tend to arrive somewhat erratically. My hope (and plan) is to write more regularly in the future but, for now, here we are!


What follows is an edited version of an article I and others wrote, which was published in Tricycle Magazine in April 2023. Here is a link to the original article, in case you are interested: https://tricycle.org/article/three-practices-climate-grief/

 

Palliative Care for Our World


To say we are living in challenging and tumultuous times is an understatement. The consequences of war, famine, poverty, and the climate crisis surround us on all sides. How can we best respond in the face of so much fear and confusion? Some of us turn prematurely to hospice care for our world. Hospice implies a terminal diagnosis. I propose that it is more accurate and helpful to think and talk about palliative care for our world. Palliative care is about helping someone who is living with serious illness receive the care they need to experience the best possible quality of life, regardless of outcome.


Palliative care for our world means doing everything we can to mitigate the damage and to save what can be saved, while simultaneously acting to improve the safety, happiness, and health of all human and more-than-human beings. Palliative care for our world involves a paradigm shift in attitude. As palliative care providers, we shift our focus to process; whole-person care; tending with loving care the bodies, minds, hearts, and souls of all sentient beings; supporting family and building community; and to including, in an ever-widening circle of compassion, all those suffering from confusion, denial, and fear. 


In my work as a doctor with seriously ill patients, including those approaching the end of their lives, I have noticed specific patterns of psychological dynamics triggered by fear that appear to significantly affect these individuals’ wellbeing. Having a better understanding of these hidden undercurrents has helped me to care more effectively.


These dynamics are well described in a body of work from the field of social psychology called Terror Management Theory. This theory, which has been validated by an extensive body of research, explains how our fear of death triggers unconsciously driven defense mechanisms, which result in a pattern of predictable behaviors. Terror Management Theory might be summarized as follows: fear of death causes us to distance ourselves from the threat, to withdraw into our shell and circle the wagons, while simultaneously acting to neutralize the apparent danger. We see this in behaviors triggered by what we sense as potential existential threats- identifying more closely with what is familiar while simultaneously distancing, denigrating, and maybe even destroying what is perceived as different and unfamiliar. 


While the research has shown that Terror Management Theory plays out at an individual level, it also demonstrates how these unconsciously driven defense mechanisms can affect behavior at a collective level, leading to objectification, polarization, and disconnection from others and the natural world. For example, could this be why we see so many autocratic leaders coming to power who promise to preserve the status quo for the cultural majority (“the familiar”) and to punish those who are perceived as a threat to the status quo? 


We urgently need to recognize that one of our collective tasks as a human community is to care for the existentially threatened and terrified ego within each of us. Doing so may free us from the unconsciously driven destructive behaviors that are feeding denial and despair to engage in life-giving ways.


However, we cannot take on such a task alone. Palliative care is a team approach. We need to do this together, knowing that healing begins when we realize our inseparable interconnectedness with all other beings on this planet. This is what our indigenous teachers have been telling us all along, it is what the mystical teachings of all the great spiritual traditions tell us, it is what the new science, as in ecology and quantum mechanics, shows us.

 

So, how can we proceed? 


While there is something in us that is afraid of death, there is also something within us that is not afraid of death. A powerful antidote to death anxiety, and the destructive behaviors this can unconsciously trigger, are practices that help us realize our profound interdependence with each other and our world, our understanding, not just conceptually but experientially, that we are inseparable parts of the web of life. Recognizing this gives us a sense of deep belonging and allows us to let our guard down and meet others with open hearts. When we are freed from our preoccupation with the endless needs and fears of what writer and philosopher Alan Watts calls “our skin-encapsulated egos,” we naturally feel a sense of deep concern for the welfare of others. 


Here are three practices that can reduce our fear of death and enable us to show up and stay present in turbulent times. The first are Earth Connection Practices. These simple practices help us remember our interdependence and kinship with our living planet through respectful, sensory awareness with the natural world. The second are Mindful Awareness Practices, derived from Buddhism and now widely available as secular teachings in the West. These can bring us into a sense of awakeness, non-duality, and open, knowing presence. The third is The Work That Reconnects, an extraordinary body of work, based on the teachings of Joanna Macy, which enables us to engage with our world in a sustainable way. By resetting our struggles and pain in a bigger and more meaningful context, such practices are powerful antidotes to burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral distress.


A glass of water with a spoonful of salt in it tastes salty, while a spoonful of salt cannot be tasted in a vast and open mountain lake. For the sake of our wounded world and of all beings, we each need to find our own way of becoming, that vast, wild, and generous mountain lake. 

 

The Becoming Forest Project

 

I also want to take this opportunity to update you on The Becoming Forest Project, a community-based educational initiative, offering deep resilience training in these uncertain times. Deep resilience training helps participants to tap into the regenerative web of life through a variety of ways, including nature connection and meditation practices, giving a felt-sense experience of interdependence, interconnectedness, and reciprocity. It is for all who are feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the suffering in their own lives and in our world, or who are worried about how their children and grandchildren will cope as they grow into an uncertain future. For more information, please visit our website: www.becomingforest.com. A new, dedicated Becoming Forest Project website is about to launched. Until then, this link will take you to a page about the project on my website).  Alternatively, please feel free to write to me through the contact page on my website or at: mkcakearney@gmail.com.


Upcoming events for your diary


· A book reading for Becoming Forest, A Story of Deep Belonging, at Tecolote Book Store, 1470 East Valley Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108, on March 23, at 3-4 pm. Please come and bring your friends!


· A “fireside chat” with one of the founders of The World Upshift Forum, Roger Casale, on Zoom, March 28 at 9 am PST - Fireside Chat with Michael Kearney MD - Becoming Forest


· A presentation at the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara, 630pm, April 18 -  https://cecsb.org/events/cec-climate-talks-micheal-kearney


We are also hoping to have a stall at Earth Day in Santa Barbara on April 27 and 28 at which we will have more information about the project and would love to see you there.


And for those of you in Ireland, there will be a number of events to promote my book in July of this year, including a book launch at Uillinn, the West Cork Arts Center, in Skibbereen, West Cork, which will also feature West Cork artist, Tess Leak’s drawings from the book. I will keep you posted on other events.

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