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The O-Bon festival is currently underway in Japan and concludes tonight, August 16th, with the Gozan no Okuribi (“five mountain send-off fire”). Five giant images are set ablaze on the mountains surrounding Kyoto—a boat, a shinto shrine gate, and three kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing). The fires are lit to send-off the spirits of deceased ancestors that have been “visiting” for the last three days. The tradition of welcoming back and sending off those who once lived is an annual ritual in Japan, more than 500 years old.
A year and a half ago we wrote a piece on this blog entitled, “Next Five Years.” At that time, in response to planetary changes we were experiencing, we outlined a re-framing of our work, “perhaps more vital than any single new project.” We recently revisited what we wrote 18 months ago, and feel that much of what we wrote still applies. Yet, given the rate of compounding change, we sense that what unfolds in the next three-and-a-half years will be much more sweeping than anything we had imagined from March of 2013.
On September 21st, 2014 there will be a Climate March in New York City, two days before the United Nations meets for an urgent Climate Summit. Given growing awareness of the wildcard potential of our collective futures, there is potential that those who gather in New York this September won’t be “marching” in a fashion typical to previous political gatherings. It’s likely that many of those who care enough to turn out also realize that we have less time (if any) than some suggest to alter the course we now are on, and we have fewer, if any, “solutions” to pursue. Rather than defaulting to legacy discourses and worn-out political strategies, what can become possible, or what might be “won” (if we even chose to use such language) through the process of walking together and showing up at all, are new ways to be with the reality of what is materially passing in and out of being right now. And this might be what we hoped for most of all a year and a half ago when we wrote “Next Five Years.” At that time, we anticipated that within that five-year window, humans would “grasp the speed, scale, and material realities of planetary change events more concretely. Arguably, thoughts, dreams, actions and creative gestures that we humans make in response to our first inklings and shared experiences of Anthropocene events will set the stage for their potential consequences.”
The algorithms driving the change that is the Anthropocene are already in motion—yet their outcomes and consequences remain unknowable from here, and highly volatile. The gathering in September, whether or not we chose to march, could cross a threshold, or a limit, in our national consciousness. What new daily practices might we invent in the process of turning at that limit? We could use some new, “cosmopolitan American” daily life practices to aid us, as the O-bon Festival aides Japanese people in connecting with, and holding thoughts about, what is materially passing in and out of being right now.
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