Book blog: Navigating the Coming Chaos, by Carolyn Baker

A handbook for inner transition

Carolyn Baker is an American psychotherapist who has been deeply involved in Transition groups in the US for many years. This book is a valuable guide to spiritual and emotional resilience as stability erodes around us.

She sees the climate crisis as the primary driver of this erosion, and quotes good insights from many sources, such as Clive Hamilton on “climate disruption’s assault on everything we believed”.

Her distinction between spirit and soul is helpful. She sees spirit as part of the mainstream culture of ‘progress’, structures of authority, the cult of knowledge. Whereas soul is about wisdom, intuition, and growing through darkness and uncertainty.

Like Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation work, Carolyn describes this as a time of collapse, and an ‘Age of Endarkenment’, but observes that souls mostly grow through times of darkness. She quotes Michael Meade: “in this emotional, spiritual swimming…(in) the waters of uncertainty…God is who or what we implore when all seems lost and there’s nowhere else to turn”.

The book has several chapters on facing and growing through painful emotions like grief, fear, anger, and moves on to how we cultivate positive feelings like courage and compassion.

She also explores how we relate our inner life to the outer world. This includes the role of communities and neighbourhoods, and how we can earn a living, maintain a sense of home, and feel safe in our bodies, as instabilities increase.

Most of this book reads like it was written yesterday, so I was surprised to find that it was published in 2011. Her guidance on spiritual and emotional resilience feels highly relevant here in 2022, especially with the Ukraine crisis. But some of her expectations of imminent economic collapse were unfounded: this is a useful reminder that mainstream systems like banking and business can fudge their way through huge challenges, and one of the big uncertainties we face is not knowing how or when key elements of daily life, society, infrastructure, will move into turmoil.