It is beyond imagination. Millions of gallons of crude continue to spew uncontrollably from the bowels of the Earth, fingering their way to shore with the force of Voldemort. Some say until August, some until Christmas, others fear for a decade. How can we possibly wrap our minds around such a thing? How do we carry on? Close your eyes and imagine floating in water filled with tar balls and shiny black goop -- as far as the eye can see. It is almost unbearable.
The way we respond to this disaster is a reflection upon us all. Right now, everyone has tar in their eyes, with an insane focus on blame, righteous anger and money. One high ranking British official told local Brits who receive a majority of their pensions from British Petroleum, "When you think of all that oil spilling into the Gulf, think of it as your retirement dollars."
BP and the State of Florida spent $25 million dollars last week on ads convincing tourists "Florida's beaches are clear." They intend to pull the ads by this week, as they know the oil will reach the shore -- and they want to have "truth in advertising."
We are surrounded with a smoke and mirrors campaign no one wants to hear, and retribution dominates these critical moments of clear thinking and action. The frenzy of "Drill baby drill" has transformed to "Sue baby sue." Something is terribly wrong with our priorities, and with corporate leadership. Everyday folks are weeping with despair, and feel totally powerless.
One of my great heroes in the field of leadership consulting is Margaret Wheatley, author of best selling Leadership and the New Sciences, professor, and co-founder of the Berkana Institute. Her newest book, Perseverance, has arrived at a fortuitous moment when all of us are wondering how we are going to persevere through one more disaster -- economic, natural, or man-made. It is potent, allegorical and healing in a way only Wheatley can manage.
Ironically, part of the inspiration came from a letter written by a CEO friend who lives on the Gulf coast, and was there during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her note to Wheatley simply said, "Every day I make a conscious choice not to give up."
That note was written before the oil spill.
I asked Wheatley what her friend has to say now. Shortly after the rig exploded in early May; Wheatley did receive a follow-up note so powerful it sent chills up my spine:
"Game over. For the shrimp and fishing industry, game over forever. For Louisiana wetlands- game over. For Cajun culture- game over. All Systems Fail."
The pain and suffering of the oil spill is preoccupying both our minds, and Wheatley is deeply concerned. She commented, "This is in our face as a nation, and we are in a moment of true impotence."
The first step to perseverance is recognition. Her book opens with, "We have never been here before in terms of the global nature of our predicament -- yet we have been here before. Humans have had to struggle with harsh times many times over; and you too, like all humans, have overcome difficult times. Now it's our turn to be the ones who step forward, who engage in the small actions that can, over time, grow into meaningful change."
Perseverance offers reflections on topics like righteous anger, blame and abandoning success, as well as hopeful aspects like steadfastness and joy. I asked Wheatley which passage best reflects the crisis in the Gulf, and she quietly yet firmly replied: "Lost".
"When we are overwhelmed and confused, our brains barely function. We reach for the old maps, the routine responses, what worked in the past. This is a predictable response, yet also suicidal. If we keep grasping for things to look familiar, and frantically try and fit new problems into old ways of thinking, we will continue to wander lost, and eventually collapse from our own confusion."
Whether it is getting out of a bad relationship, changing a corporate system, or facing the greatest natural disaster in our history, the only way to get out of "Lost" is to know the old ways don't work. "We have to abandon our anger," Wheatley said. "The calls for justice aren't getting anywhere -- besides destroying us as a nation." By recognizing we are lost, we can see new territory, and grasp the depth of what we don't know, so scientists of the world can sit and think together."
Even though no one has the faintest idea how to plug that gushing, subterranean arterial hemorrhage -- we have been here before. We have survived horrors and devastation, by strengthening our relationships with one another. The locals on the Gulf need to be recognized, heard, and given help. Those who can self-organize represent the true steadfast qualities of perseverance. The power of a community emerges out of necessity.
Wayne Landry, parish council president in St. Bernard Parish, and other leaders from parishes and counties in Louisiana and Mississippi have organized their own response, called the "coastal zone authority for recovery." Others are sending money, visiting troubled areas, and sending in thousands of suggestions to BP for clever ways to stop the bleed. It is a start.
How do we, Huff Po readers, persevere through all this? Wheatley warns, "We have pierced into Mother Earth's core, and maybe we can learn enough from all this for it to become a moment to evolve, rather than collapse."
This is a wake-up call. A chance for all of us to choose who we want to be. Let's get out of anger and blame, and recognize our crude oil addiction has got to stop. Let's learn something. "Perseverance is seemingly a journey without end. We become patient because we have to. Every day we have to make a choice. Will we give up or will we keep going?
Here is a very powerful meditation tool to help focus on the Gulf, and find ways to persevere. It is called a Tonglen Meditation, found in books by Pema Chodron. Sit, relax and get an image of the Gulf. Breathe in the image of endless oil polluting the Gulf, and breathed out light until it is clean and clear once again. Tonglen is an intensely powerful meditation that can be very hard to do, yet is so healing.
Ed and Deb Shapiro also suggested meditating while repeating the mantra, "May all beings be free from suffering and the conditions that cause suffering."
We can persevere. We have to. If you would like to share a comment, please do so, as our relationships help us all to persevere, and our conversations are of great importance.
Follow Kari Henley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karihenley