Entering a time of radical change

Author and mythologist sees a trend among youth to help the Earth and other people

Contributing writerFebruary 8, 2013 

In December, end-of-the-world “celebrations” abounded. The idea that the world is coming to an end has become so commonplace as to be fodder for jokes.

These are difficult times indeed, mythologist Michael Meade said. But Meade also sees reason for hope.

He’ll speak tonight at The Evergreen State College about the subject of his new book, “Why the World Doesn’t End: Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss.”

The very word “apocalypse,” which has come to mean the end of the world, actually means “unveiling,” Meade has said.

“We’re in a period of radical change,” the Vashon Island author and speaker said in a phone interview this week. “It’s easy to see gloom and doom and feel that way, because things do end.

“So many things that people were used to have already ended: the idea that each generation has a better economic opportunity, … the sense of progress in education, the idea that education is available to everybody. … The issues are so big that politics can’t handle them.”

But he has a different perspective to share. “One reason I wrote the book is that young people all over the country are asking me, ‘Is this whole thing just going to come to an end?’” Many Evergreen students who’ve read the book have sent him comments and questions along those lines, he said.

“I say, ‘No. It’s coming to a period of radical change where some things are ending and other things that are less visible are changing in a positive way, growing or renewing or appearing for the first time.”

His work has been praised by Alice Walker, Robert Bly and others. “Magical and profound, unlike anyone else one is likely to encounter, Michael Meade is one of the greatest living teachers of our time,” Walker has said.

Meade sees reason for hope among the country’s youth, who are rising to the challenges in a new way.

“The number of young people working in cutting-edge environmental projects and being involved in things that are healing the Earth or helping poor people or something like that, that is back in a growth direction,” he said. “I see much more inspiration among young people than there was 10 years ago.”

He sees it among the elders as well, citing as one example “threshold choirs,” small groups of elders who sing to the dying.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “They are like angels. It’s not publicized — it probably won’t be publicized — but to me it’s symbolic. … They turn the painful, struggling aspects of dying into a thing of beauty.”

And he sees it among combat veterans, one of the populations with which his Mosaic Multicultural Foundation works. He’s seen veterans struggling to heal from the psychological wounds of battle and then turn around and do permaculture or fight forest fires. “They are models of how you take something that’s painful, threatening, troublesome, difficult to deal with, and you somehow move it into an area of growth and healing,” he said.

The culture and the media often focus on the things that are going wrong, he said.

“Some of these things are just beginning, and many of them have not found their way to the news,” he said. “The news is dominated by all the conflicts and all the threats and all the dangers, and maybe that’s the way it always is.”

The hope, he said, is along the margins of society.

“We’re in a period where top down isn’t working,” he said. “Unseen for the most part, there are things coming from the ground.

“The growth, the hopeful things, the rewarding things are in the margins, the dark places,” he added. “Going to the place that seems scary but intriguing is actually the healthy thing to do.” ‘Why the World Doesn’t End’

What: Mythology scholar Michael Meade, author of “Why the World Doesn’t End: Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss,” promises surprises in an evening of storytelling and discussion.

When: 7 tonight

Where: Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Olympia

Tickets: $12; $9 for students

More information: mosaicvoices.org

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