Living in End Times: Beyond Hope and Despair

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Abstract by Sean Kelly

Sean’s complete essay is available for free download here:*

I don’t know anyone who is decidedly hopeful about the future of human civilization, or indeed about the future of complex life itself. In fact, more and more people I encounter have fallen into a deepening despair. At the same time, some have proposed revisions to the traditional meaning of hope, revisions that are not dependent upon the expectation of a successful outcome. These proposals, some of my friends and colleagues feel, are essential not only to prevent sinking further into despair, but to encourage the kind of activism we so need if, indeed, there is still a fighting chance to avoid the worst. I respect these proposals, even if, at the time of writing, I am no longer able to ground myself in them.

This essay, therefore, is especially for those who, consciously or unconsciously, have already abandoned all hope that we will be able to prevent civilizational collapse and halt the accelerating Great Unraveling. There are many too whose heart-mind lives in a divided state, caught in a distressing oscillation between despair and hope, and who might benefit from a creative, third way. As an alternative to hope, however it might be defined, I explore the possibility of a new kind of faith, a faith grounded in the experience of wisdom and the affirmation of love. Rooted in this ground, I suggest that we might find a way to live in these end times beyond both hope and despair, a way that makes room for grief, fear, even anger, but also for joy, delight, and a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

I begin with the idea that we live in end times. Then, after considering some recent attempts to redefine the meaning of the word hope, I explore resonances between our personal mortality and the planetary initiation that we are being drawn into, an initiation that seems to be constellating a collective near-death experience. For the rest of the essay, I circle around a series of intimations of what it might mean to waken in these end times to our deeper, more integral selves. Here I focus on how experience of the fourth, or integral time reveals the intrinsic, and indeed infinite, value of the actions we might still take on behalf of Gaia and the entire web of life, in whatever time we have left.

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Sean Kelly, Ph.D., is professor of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) where he co-taught courses on The Great Turning with Joanna.  He is the author of Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era, co-editor of The Variety of Integral Ecologies: Nature, Culture, and Knowledge in the Planetary Era, and co-translator of Edgar Morin’s Homeland Earth: A manifesto for the New Millennium. Along with his academic work, Sean teaches taiji and is a facilitator of the  Work that Reconnects.

One thought on “Living in End Times: Beyond Hope and Despair

  1. I will raise my hand and say that I am decidedly and emphatically hopeful about the future of our planet, of life on our planet, and of human civilization on our planet — for reasons I introduced during our conversation on Jeremy Johnson’s Mutations Salon yesterday (Sunday June 12, 2022). This is based in part on my academic studies (Ph.D. in cultural history, with an interest in big history) and my 4o years of spiritual practice.

    So now you know at least one.

    Thank you for a profound and engaging conversation yesterday. I will be following up with your pdf article “Living In End Times” and with your book “Becoming Gaia.”

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