Is It the Apocalypse?
Over the last several years, people have been asking me about what’s going on, in the largest possible sense. As in, Is this the apocalypse? Is the world about to end? What is happening?
Many religions and spiritual paths have literature that helps us to understand such times. In Christian theology, we call it the apocalypse; in Hindu Tantric Traditions we call it Kali Yuga; and Buddhism, we refer to it as the Dark Ages. The term ‘apocalypse’ literally means an unveiling, where on one hand truth is being unveiled, but on the other hand, we’re facing the limitations of our being able to handle it.
For example, we’ve seen the truth of how we have been living together as a society, how we’ve covered up so many issues, and now we can’t cover them up anymore. Everything that we’ve not done in the past is calling us to task now. The rise and endurance of Trump and his followers feels like the entrance of chaos and the disruption of things we had felt were safe and stable. Now we’re seeing that it was never so safe or stable, and we’re seeing it up close and personal.
We see it with climate change as well, with the increase of natural disasters around the world, with the extinction of many species of plants and animals, with the melting of the polar ice caps. We see it with the pandemic. We see it with war.
Naturally, in such times, many of us experience intense suffering: fear, anger, despair, hate, depression, terror. It’s different for each of us. Often we lose the ability to hold a space for that suffering. Our rage, which when it is beneficial helps us to identify that we are hurt, becomes energy that we respond to habitually and that causes harm for ourselves and others. We do things that take a toll on our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. We begin to objectify others. We begin to lose empathy with one another.
But the apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world. It’s about the end of a way of thinking, a way of believing, and that’s painful to let go of. That’s where the fire and brimstone metaphors come from: from that basic fear of letting go of the ways that we used to be, in order to make space for what’s happening next. And that is terrifying because we don’t know what it is.
What, then, is our work? Let’s talk about two aspects: spaciousness and self-care.
The original teachings of mindfulness introduced a way of paying attention to what’s arising in our emotions, bodies, and minds. You start with a basic acceptance of saying, Okay, yeah, things are out of control. You return to the breath, return to the body and begin to look at what’s happening for you internally. Once you have some clarity about that, then you can move back into the world in a way that’s more stable and more sustainable.
Mindfulness also helps us to see what we habitually avoid, and to get spacious around it. We learn to relate to discomfort instead of bypassing it. There is trauma in our experiences which is really tough to sit with, but we can learn how to develop a more open relationship to it by being with it more over time.
Our work is also self-care. For me, that involves developing a sense of self-love, a sense that I am enough, that I deserve to be happy, that I deserve to be safe. We need to surround ourselves with people who help us remember our goodness, who are advocates for our self-care and self-love. I also remember my ancestors, remembering the positive qualities that have passed from generation to generation in my family, trying to embody their characteristics of resiliency, community focus, and self- care.
We need rituals of self- care and self- preservation. Many of us don’t actually know how to take care of ourselves. We know how to be self-indulgent, but self-care, in the way that Audre Lorde speaks of it in terms of self- preservation, is about supporting ourselves so that we eventually lean back into engagement with others around us. We sustain ourselves in order to sustain our communities. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I love to go to the nail spa and get my nails done. I love a little shopping. I lean a little into capitalism. I do that because it provides a way for me to then come back and do the work of creating just communities.
Because what we do for ourselves, we’re ethically obligated to do for others. Love and compassion are bullshit unless we actually do something to benefit the lives of others. So we’re not talking about sitting in the corner and doing loving-kindness practice for yourself and just trying to feel good.
No matter how much you try to help, though, that doesn’t mean you’re going to save anyone or stop anything. That’s part of the apocalypse, too, that not everyone is going to survive. So this may be our season to wallow through the darkness. It’s hard to do that. It’s supposed to be hard. I don’t know of any spiritual or religious tradition that says everyone’s going to end up in the same place. But the brilliant thing about these prophecies of apocalypse, is that it won’t last forever. It is a stage that we’re going through, and as the Bible says, there is a season for everything.
La Sarmiento (they/them) is a mentor for the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program (MMTCP) and a teacher with Cloud Sangha. They have taught meditation retreats for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Teens, and Young Adults, and everyone in-between around the United States since 2010 and are a 2012 graduate of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leader Training.