Higher Ground

“How can we sleep when our beds are burning?”
Midnight Oil: Diesel & Dust.

The moon that rose at 10:41pm on the 18th August is known to Chinese culture as the Moon of the Hungry Ghosts. Hungry Ghosts are traditionally placated with sweets and tidbits much as Santa’s reindeer are; more dim sum, fewer mince pies but no half-eaten carrots as far as I know; a playful survival from the less sophisticated age when King Wen overthrew the archetypical Hungry Ghost the villainous King Zhou Xin, Tyrant of Shang, whose hobby was personally flaying alive those who displeased him.

In Chinese tradition the Hungry Ghosts are no joke. They are those who in life were forever in search of more: more victories, more mistresses, more wealth, more power, more attention, bigger houses, greater influence. Their central belief was in shortage and the need to get theirs before others did. The underlying idea is that such spirits become so attached to the material that after death they can’t move on. They may not even realise that they are dead. So they wander among us.

My friend Peter phones me. In the early hours of this morning he woke up having dreamed that the doorbell rang. It’s happened a couple of times before. This time the dogs were quiet so he could be certain it was a dream. But for sure someone is seeking his attention.

The fact is that not all Hungry Ghosts are dead: in these times of contained panic, it is clear that flesh-and-blood ghosts walk the Earth. There are those among us who cannot see that the Earth is round and her resources finite and those who think that nature is there to be plundered. They include many who sell us our phones, fuel our cars, publish our newspapers, run our web platforms and our governments. And they are us; nobody uses Amazon Prime at gunpoint. And we are at a point of pivot.

A disturbance at Peter’s NorthWest-facing door may indicate his Father, who is not dead but is largely lost to the world. You don’t need to subscribe to astral travelling to know that such a grounded soul will be active within.
As if cued, Peter Green’s “Green Manalishi” comes up on my playlist. That single damped chord that Green puts into the space for a solo, sends shivers up my backbone. Could there be a more eloquent expression of withdrawal from as Green himself put it, “the devil as represented by a wad of cash.”?

On some readings of the Chinese Cycles, the rise in sea level over the next century may be higher by an order of magnitude than today’s worst estimates of 2 or 3 metres. Which is why those with wads of cash are seeking temperate locations in the heights, buying up Gran Canaria, The Seychelles, New Zealand, Colorado and Zug, the Guinness plots above Vancouver, Bishops Avenue in North London. These privileged few are not 8-foot lizards and they’re not bound by any tie of race, creed or belief other than greed as far as I can tell. They convene at Davos and Aspen and Monte Carlo and as Naomi Klein wrote: “the wealthiest people in the world…think that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep they will be taken care of.”

And the thing is they’re probably right.

Which I guess is why I wake up with the horrors most mornings. I sleep carefully positioned and aligned of course but if I’m not sweating about climate change, then it’s Brexit. And now there’s Covid 19 to drown these two out like a car crash in a thunderstorm. I worry most about the world I will leave to my children; not so much whether they will survive but whether the world they inherit will allow them to live the lives they have planned for.

Thing is I can envisage a better world. In that world rivers are clean, seas are free of plastic and rainforests intact. In that world a groaning Earth is released from abuse and my children and their children have a chance. That’s the world we can be building once this brief inconvenience is over.
But I can’t see me in it: I am by nature competitive and I want more for myself and my descendants than for others. I recycle, I am vegetarian, I am politically active, I heal for a living, I’m doing my best. And it’s clear that a change of heart by about 500 billionaires as well as a change of approach by around 150 global corporations is actually enough to release the Earth and a thousand otherwise doomed species at a stroke. But the other reason I awake with dread gripping my guts like the gradual tightening of an adjustable spanner, is that the Hungry Ghosts are me. And you of course.

In the Fire Monkey Year of 2016, at the Paris Summit, 195 nations agreed to reduce carbon output to half by 2030 and eliminate it altogether by 2050. If you take into account the degree to which developed nations have outsourced their pollution to the 3rd world, not one is likely to come anywhere near. The Fire Monkey recurring in my mind’s eye is the frantic mother orang utan fleeing her burning nest in the Indonesian jungle.
It looks like the week between the Solar Eclipse of the 14th December and the Solstice on the 21st is the point of pivot at which we commit to whichever direction we’re going to take. After which we may be able to breathe again. But if we don’t take advantage of this enforced time out to clean up our act, the consequences are quite clear: only Hungry Ghosts alive.

I suggest to Peter that his Father, across the Irish Sea befuddled with Alzheimers, might be taking this opportunity to stay in touch. A mischievous geezer by all accounts, he might enjoy a game of knockdown ginger with his favourite child.

Richard Ashworth©

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Richard Ashworth©

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