Humanity: Facing Our Own Extinction, Our Own Nothingness

There are religious orders in both the East and West that make a great point about meditating on death.  Often they make it a practice to have a skull on the dining table where monks eat, for example, so that one keeps in mind the reality of death. 

 “From this moment despair ends and tactics begin.” Mural attributed to Banksy which appeared by the Marble Arch during the Extinction Rebellion protests in April 2019. The slogan is a quotation from The Revolution of Everyday Life. Wikimedia Commons.

This might be construed as a somewhat lugubrious meditation, but its purpose is not necessarily to be that way.  Its purpose is to face the fact of life that we are all mortal and life is short and we really ought to make the most of our time on earth. 

If we go into denial about our mortality, or if we fall into the million distractions consumer capitalism offers or what Thomas Merton called the “Niagara of trivia” flowing from the media, we will miss out on life and on what counts.

There are other ways of reminding us of that truth of course.  Otto Rank does so when he declares that an artist is “one who wants to leave behind a gift.”  To leave behind means that one knows one is leaving.  When, we don’t know, but we are all exiting some time.  Why not leave a gift behind?  That too is an acknowledgement of our finiteness and our very real mortality.  And creativity can be just that, leaving behind a gift.

Gazing into the void of nothingness. Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash.

But it is not just individuals who die.  Species also come and go and we are living in a time of incomparable species extinction—the greatest species spasm since the dinosaurs and numerous other species disappeared 65 million years ago we are told.

And today, with climate change raging and glaciers melting and seas rising and droughts increasing and heat setting all new records and floods doing the same and countries at war and preparing for war and failing to work together to fight climate change and an entire political party in America in denial about climate change, and a “supreme” court passing a law that kills the EPA’s power to limit toxins that kill the atmosphere (but make money for industrial capitalists and there shareholders), it is time to meditate on the very real possibility of our extinction as a species. 

Our becoming nothing as a species.  An ex-species, an extinct species going the way of all our cousins, the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all the others.  We homo sapiens are, after all, the last one standing.   But for how long?

Are we headed to extinction?  To nothing as a species?  

To be continued

See Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 194, 183, 182.

Banner Image: Activists with Extinction Rebellion marching with banner. Originally posted to

Queries for Contemplation

Dwell on the challenging questions raised in this rather sober—but real—meditation: Are we headed to extinction?  Can the emergency of climate change and the peril of Mother Earth wake us up soon enough to steer homo sapiens into a sustainable direction?  Is a spiritual transformation possible? 

Recommended Reading

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

19 thoughts on “Humanity: Facing Our Own Extinction, Our Own Nothingness”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, There are those among Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians who meditate on death. In fact the country of Bouton stops five times a day to meditate on death, in this way they believe it will help them to appreciate life. Someone with a western mind, inspired by the practice in Bouton, made an app for our phones called, WeCroak” which gives you quotes on death throughout the day–so you can meditate on death 5 times a day as well! And you say the purpose of this kind of meditation “is to face the fact of life that we are all mortal and life is short and we really ought to make the most of our time on earth.” Otto Rank declares that an artist is “one who wants to leave behind a gift.” You in turn say, “Why not leave a gift behind? That too is an acknowledgement of our finiteness and our very real mortality.” Then you add, “But it is not just individuals who die. Species also come and go and we are living in a time of incomparable species extinction—the greatest species spasm since the dinosaurs and numerous other species disappeared 65 million years ago we are told.” And in light of what climate change is doing to our world, you ask if we are we in danger of becoming extinct–“going the way of all our cousins, the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all the others. We homo sapiens are, after all, the last one standing. But for how long?” And that is the question for our species. And we must “Rebel for Life” against those who put financial profit before what is good for all people–and the strange thing that they don’t get that they’re in it too–extinction will not pass them by! And now for our Queries for Contemplation. “Can the emergency of climate change and the peril of Mother Earth wake us up soon enough to steer homo sapiens into a sustainable direction?” The bottom line is it seems to be dependent on what the world leaders and corporations decide. Will they give up their purely selfish pursuits, or end up killing us all as a result of climate change and its foreseeable devastation? Then you ask, “Is a spiritual transformation possible?” The truth of the matter is that spiritual transformation is always possible, but one must want it, choose it, and do something about it!

    1. Avatar

      Richard – I so appreciate your thoughts here … I am one of those who firmly believe that we are past the breaking point and that indeed our species will be extinct probably within 30-50 years if not before … I have practiced Christianity for nearly all of my adult life, studied it, taught it, believed it, as a professional. Only in the last two or three years have I become disenchanted with and very skeptical of orthodoxy and practices connected with it. Matthew does a wonderful job of providing contemporary applications, language and reflections in ways few other are doing and I am grateful for that. That said, the overwhelming number of crises in our world, especially the climate crisis, bring us to the place where even with faithful-filled individual lifestyle changes, it will not be enough. Still, we should practice them regardless. Those with power, wealth and position, however, are so threatened by the idea of giving all that up to forestall what is inevitable, that they won’t do it. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from misplaced desire, addictions, attachments, cravings, replaying old tapes over and over hoping for a different result (insanity) – and as long as we get “mileage” from these, we will not change unless and until the pain we suffer becomes unbearable and there are no more “fixes”. I hate to be so negative about the global future, but it stares me right in the face all the time. I am just so saddened by it all so I have a mantra I use when someone asks me how I am doing. I say, “I am doing the very best I can with what I have for as long as necessary unless and until I am led to do something different by grace through faith.” Meditation, mindfulness and contemplation are essential for me along with social and political action to impact the injustice and suffering everywhere. That is all I know to do … thanks again for your wise words. Namaste

    2. Avatar

      The notion that humanity has 7 years to reverse the tide of climate change, thus avoiding an unimaginable catastrophe for the species and planet, is a myth. Careful from whence you derive your scientific facts. Like religion, what’s out there is rife with error and bias. The best evidence points to the irreversibility of same in the direction of a humanly caused environmental apocalypse. Reason? The lot of humanity is in denial about its own mortality and self-orchestrated demise — one particular to our species alone, whose dark-side inclinations remain unrecognized, unnamed, and properly diagnosed. Reason? Species susceptibility to illusion and deception. For hard scientific facts on same, suggest readers view ‘Planet of The Humans’ on Amazon Prime, or on YouTube, Trust me, it’s an eye opener.

  2. Avatar

    There is always hope, however there is at the same time, that Mathew points us to meditating on, that what we are witnessing is the result of our own destructive creations, the antithesis of what our Creator gave to us. The scientists tell us now that we have only a 7-year window left to take action before the effects of global warming become critical in our survival as a species. A beautiful person, Greta Thuman, has been calling this to the attention of many young people for some time and their consciousness is growing that we may become extinct by what we are doing to one another/the planet who host us, all interconnected in process, one and the same. On the January 21 presentation on YouTube, I like what intercommunications occur between the scientists, Greta and the Dalai Lama who I paraphrase in remembering what he says: “This is not a time to say God, God, Buddha Buddha do something…this is the time for us to do something.” The word (love) in John was made flesh and dwelt among us. The dwelling is manifest in actions as Jesus and others have done as Sons and Daughters of God of all ages, that have and are showing us. The words about our possible extinction and all of the harm manifesting from our social injustices is out …and Now is the time for love guided actions. We will be shown the way out of the mess, but we must choose to accept the best solutions being implemented by those growing in numbers among us who have consciousness, courage, and compassion. The collective consciousness is reaching a critical mass now, … I wonder if it will be in time but am grateful to be among those of us with conscious awareness that Mathew and others promote. I wrote this article 2005 in my own processing the possibility of our extinction as we have been doing to so many species and genocide of each other and cultures.
    When will we ever learn, when will we ever…learn?


  3. Avatar
    Suzanne Hetherington

    Thank you for this Matthew. As a climate activist who has been arrested many times and is now contemplating prison, I find your daily mediations a most nourishing resource which remind me always to check in with myself that my action comes from a place of love, compassion and unicity. I would like to share a talk by Dr Carmody Grey (professor of Catholic theology Durham University UK). Scientists here in Europe are saying we actually have two years, maybe three to take radical action on climate to prevent irreversible tipping points, not seven. Carmody powerfully argues for civil resistance as the “most innocent” and only choice we can now make.

  4. Avatar

    Does God commit genocide? Evolution does. Most of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. In doing theology, philosophy and our beliefs about the evolution of the universe, let’s do so from the point of view of the extinct, not just the survivors who appear to be privileged by the accidents of history.

  5. Avatar

    There are many organs and systems comprising the human body, yet it is one body. Likewise, Scripture is comprised of many books, yet it is one story. Genesis is the first book that begins this story, and its foundational. If we don’t understand Genesis, we will not understand the rest of the story. The first story we read in Genesis is creation. In Genesis 1 and 2, everything was perfect. (Matthew does an exceptionally thorough job exegeting that in his ministry, writings, and DM’s). In Genesis 4 we find jealousy, anger and murder. What happened in between? How did the story shift from blessing to curse, or more accurately, how did the story shift to INCLUDE curse, an admixture off darkness and light, evil along with the original blessing? Some would think that Genesis 1-4 is a fairytale or myth, not an account of human history explaining both blessing, AND the etiology of the majority of struggles we have today. In tracing the etiology of a disease, every competent MD takes a studied history. S-he wants to trace when a given disorder began, when, how, and/or where a person’s overall health (wholeness) started to decline. An effective remedy pivots on an accurate diagnosis, only found in carefully uncovering same in a patient’s history . . . his-story. Via Moses, Scripture diagnoses the disease part, and begins the remedial (redemptive) process. That process, and the story itself (blessing and cursing) had a clear beginning, and a fairly clear timeline delineating the history of God’s kingdom on earth, intermixed as it is with human history. For those with eyes to see, the former is hidden in the latter, the play-within-the-play of the story of a life, and the history of the earth. One doesn’t have to agree with the total story, especially the dark side diagnosis. Yet unbelief in the whole story (God’s Word) is not only the heart of mankind’s foundational problem (unbelief), but unbelief doesn’t make it untrue. I don’t like hearing about darkness either, especially my own, to say nothing of remedying it. But I’m not comfortable facing either Moses or Jesus one day, boldly proclaiming to the former that I liked part A of his Genesis account, but part B I can do without. I’ll leave to others to declare part B carried little weight in either the whole story, or God’s detailed remedy for same. Nor would I want to suggest to Jesus that his Father’s plan for redemption, and his part in it, along with his words in the canonical account were basically unnecessary from the get-go, based on a faulty diagnosis. If Moses got the story wrong up there amid the smoke and lightning up there on Sinai, then how come part B (dark side) of the story is the only biblical doctrine for which there is, and continues to be an absolutely overwhelming abundance of evidence? Truth be told, it takes more faith, preponderantly so, to DENY part B, than it does to embrace it as causal. In reality, amid the many blessings of creation and the good in souls, everywhere mankind continues to work against itself and the health of the planet. As the chief and most virulent of earth’s necrophilic pathogens, the planet could, and may very well, recover and thrive without us. Not a good prognosis for Earth, unless one includes the totality of the rest of the story (redemptive record) as to how it ends.

  6. Avatar

    What amazes me is that countries are still “at war and preparing for war” as if the planet around them is not burning around them. There is one thing that we should all be doing. We ought to be cooperating to fight climate change and do what we can to preserve our global environment. Making war is an absurdity at this moment. To answer your question, no, I’m afraid I don’t believe we can get our act together in time. I believe a remnant of the human species will survive–I’m told maybe 10%.

    So what do I do as a 75-year-old woman in the meantime? I keep doing what I do best to write plays and poetry and short essays that might wake people up even though I know it is a voice crying in the wilderness. I just looked outside my window and see three young deer foraging for grasses. They are carrying on as they are meant to do–to live and prosper; and I am doing the same. One of my plays is being read to an audience on August 10th here in Prescott, AZ. Its theme is emphasized by the main character as he speaks to the audience in the final minutes of the play.

    Allan: “Anything you create, like Colter’s masterpiece all around me, can fall apart. The artist doesn’t have control over her work. It can fall apart or it can, transcending time, come back to life—like peace treaties and economic security. (He quotes.) “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” Gandhi. The work doesn’t end. I won’t be around forever. Don and Doña Pájaro weren’t either—if you believe in such things. Fred Harvey wasn’t around forever, and neither was Mary Colter, though sometimes I feel as if they visit here from time to time. There’s always work to be done. I did what I could. As the last Don Alphonso de los Pájaros said when he walked away from his family home, “Keep watch for me after I’m gone.”

  7. Avatar

    Statistics show that the majority of the world’s population is aging and will likely become of little significance in political and lifestyle methods as we die off and leave the 33+% of under 20s to be fruitful and multiply and manage their world. We will be especially vulnerable as worldwide shortages of necessities compromise our diet, our medical care, and our tolerance.
    Mother Earth is in the process of protecting herself from the most dangerous and destructive of all species with climate disasters and pandemics, the most recent of which concentrates on elder morbidity–She may know who’s promoting policies that do Her the most harm! She’s bigger than we are and She *will* win this struggle. She is familiar with change. She has been evolving and changing, starting over, and tweaking development for 4 billion years. She knows how to do it. She understands extinctions and uses them to Her advantage. She isn’t invested in survival of homo sapiens—quite the opposite, I’m sure, considering the damage we’ve done Her.
    But the time for redemption is over and at this point all that can be done is to develop a process of survival. Young people will manage this on some level, but their world will be nothing at all like ours in politics, economics, sociology, or religion.
    When it comes to survival, people use methods not tolerated in other circumstances. In Europe in WWII, orphaned children formed survival groups and they weren’t politically correct in the means they used; and as they matured, their values were different–for the rest of their lives. Desperation in youth creates differences in thinking which will mean differences in all areas. Instead of a few children in WWII, Earth will have an entire generation of people changed and formed by desperation. If us geezers were around to know them, we might not recognize them as members of our species!
    These people will be furious with their ancestors. They will be mentally and emotionally changed by the desperation of fighting for survival. They will not be kindly disposed toward the god of their fathers and will find new ones who are inclusive and kind. Or, if they perceive the punitive nature of gods generally, they may abandon the whole concept.
    They will build a world we can’t even imagine.
    Their adjustments will determine whether or not homo sapiens is a fundamentally destructive species or whether we actually DO have a spark of divinity that can allow growth instead of death to dominate our world.
    But our time is over. Times are coming that will end our ability to destroy further. I read that Monterrey, Mexico has no water—houses get water twice a week.
    Migrations are inevitable and with the present fear and loathing of immigrants, this won’t result in happy circumstances.
    No water means no food.
    Soil destroyed by decades of chemical poisoning will not provide for the masses of hungry people.
    No fuel means no conveniences—no cars, no AC, no heat, no money. A population spoiled by a lifetime of luxury and comfort won’t have a pretty reaction to enforced deprivation.
    All life as we know it is changing to something completely alien to us.

    1. Avatar
      martina nicholson

      I love that you are speaking of Mother Earth, and speaking about her response to climate change. Loss of water, increased immigration, unstable governments as people are hungry— it is now 106 degrees in Texas for the foreseeable future, apparently, and many other places as well— and we cannot agree to use family planning as an alternative to war, famine and plague, to reduce human overpopulation. 778 billion dollars in our budget for military spending, and no commensurate increase in spending for the actual needs of people, including diplomacy and problem-solving collaboratives with our neighboring countries. “My personal death” is something we have grappled with in human spirituality for a long time, but as a SPECIES, this is a new conversation. Considering the amount of knowledge and awakened consciousness in young people, I think you are right about how differently they will be solving problems in the next many years. I wish we could wrest the “wheel” away from the military-industrial complex, but probably until there is widespread available solar energy, FREE and useable to solve problems of extreme climate conditions, we will be overrun by the corporate power which is controlling the Congress and our legislators. Decentralizing, and collaborative solidarity projects are the right answer. As far as the denial of death is concerned, the movement for HOSPICE has helped bring a consciousness to people and families about how to go through the process of dying in a more meaningful and less rocky way. This is a really important advance, and also is an opportunity for people of many faiths to speak with each other around the dying and deaths of loved ones. We can share vital insights in this way, instead of proselytizing and trying to change someone else’s dogmatic opinions.

  8. Avatar

    Aquinas is quoted by Matthew Fox as having written, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the good.” (Do I have that right?). No, thank you, to counsels of despair. Yes, please to efforts, practical and verbal, to improve a sad situation. Especially cooperative efforts. Our understanding is limited. Fear, said Jesus, is unnecessary. What is needed, he added, is trust. Remember the Letter of James. Pray and do good.

  9. Avatar

    What has humanity contributed to the rest of Creation? Mostly abuse, in my opinion. Why do we think that we are important enough to be “saved” when we have practiced every conceivable destructive method in our relationship to other members of Creation with whom we share this beautiful earth? If God created the Cosmos, then we are but a mere and insignificant part of it and can easily be done without. Someone wrote that the same mind that caused the problem cannot fix the problem. I would love to be wrong, but it looks to be a long and painful process of weeding out, so to speak, the most vulnerable first, and then gradually or maybe quickly the rest. Even the very rich will succumb in time. The story of Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell comes to mind.

  10. Avatar

    Matthew, Michael Dowd (, Christian minister and environmentalist, and his scientist wife have been asking these very same questions in 85 interviews these past three years with prominent environmentalists, scientists, and spiritual teachers on his website. The “Creation in Crisis” organization will be sponsoring their free monthly Webinar on August 4th, and Michael Dowd will be giving the second part of his presentation. Hope all your followers will have a chance to look up his website, or attend his Webinar presentation. The ending of our global industrial civilization is imminent according to most experts. The message seems to be that those who survive have to begin mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually preparing and adjusting to a more simpler, communal, compassionate, and spiritual way of life. Maybe we need to start learning from our indigenous sisters and brothers and their sacred way of life with Mother Earth and all Her creatures and blessings.

  11. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    As I was pondering over today’s DM, what came to my awareness was perceiving death and life as a form of mystical alchemy… as a natural process of transformation and change, in substance and form. The world has taught me that there are natural seasonal and cyclic processes of life and death, which lead to transformation and change. What remains throughout these alchemical processes of life, death, change and transformation is the mystery of Spirit… that eternal something. This mysterious something, the mystics have referred to as conscious Divine Love… nonbeing… nonduality… no-thing. Does anything God created really become extinct… or does all of creation merely go through the alchemical process of living and dying… changing only its substance and form… while maintaining and sustaining its eternal consciousness of connection, of Oneness with Spirit?

    I wonder about people whom have received an organ transplant from a donor whom has physically died, in which the recipient has experienced the conscious memories or skills and talents of the deceased one, that he or she once possessed while alive. I wonder about past life experiences, and the process of past life regression and the ability to consciously access the awareness of other lifetimes once lived. I wonder about people whom channel, accessing the conscious eternal Spirit of those whom have long passed on from this world of existence, yet as benevolent entities, whom long to assist other souls in their life and death journey. Death it seems is just as much a mystery as life is. The mystics it seems to me… seemed to surrender in trust to the mystery of both life and death… and the perrenial wisdom to be discovered within this alchemical process of change and transformation of consciousness… somehow accessing the eternal Holy Spirit which maintains and sustains existence, beyond substance and form.

    The awe and wonder of both life and death undoubtedly remains a mystery… yet somehow there appears to be an eternal consciousness of Spirit that continously unfolds, evolves and emerges… beyond existence as we know it to be. The mystics simply acknowledged and responded to this mystery of the eternal Holy Spirit… with faith, hope and trust. Their testimonies inspire us all to be fearless in our own alchemical processes that are unfolding, evolving and emerging from our own experiences of encountering both life and death and the transformational changes of consciousness that takes place within our existence.

    What also comes to the surface are the words found in scripture, which states that God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. Perhaps extinction isn’t what we perceive or understand it to be, but rather is a natural alchemical process of life, death, change and transformation of substance and form… into the eternal Holy Spirit of conscious Divine Love… which is the light and darkness of both form and formlessness.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: