Our forests are burning, our ice is melting, our air and water is increasingly polluted, places held sacred by indigenous people’s all over the world are being desecrated, inequality is staggering, and we are losing 150 species a day.
At this moment we are speeding towards irreversible tipping points that will initiate catastrophic climate collapse in a time frame that we cannot predict… the incredibly complex and sensitive interconnected systems that create the conditions for life on this planet are under threat and we are responsible.
Of course, all this has all been happening for quite some time now already, but the awareness of these converging crises appears to have just exploded- or at least it has in my little corner of the world.
All around me, people are expressing intense grief, anger, despair, panic and/or powerlessness… and I feel it too.
How could I not!? This is our larger body, this is the system in which we are inextricably embedded and dependent. I believe we are all feeling this pain for our world on some level- although I think many of us personalize and pathologize it without even realizing it.
This is our world, and feeling pain for it is not only okay, but it’s also a mark of our sanity in my opinion.
“Pain for the world is not only natural, it is a necessary component of our healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action. It is not to be banished by injections of optimism or sermons on “positive thinking.” It is to be named and validated as a healthy, normal human response to the situation we find ourselves in. Faced and experienced, its power can be used. As the frozen defences of the psyche thaw, new energies and intelligence are released.“-Joanna Macy
I think that sometimes we are too quick to find ways to try to alleviate the pain and discomfort when we are activated by such confronting news…
In our emotion-phobic culture, many of us have been conditioned to express only a very narrow band of ‘acceptable’ emotions- the rest are routinely suppressed for fear of being labelled ‘negative’, ‘dramatic’ or ‘too much’.
Some are also afraid that opening up to our feelings will result in overwhelm and leave us incapacitated.
As a result, many of us refuse to feel and are either in outright denial, mired in apathy or express a hollow optimism that is used in defence of the truth. Many more of us have become increasingly numbed to our circumstances, responding to our pain and our sense of powerlessness by switching off by any means possible such as compulsive eating, drugs and alcohol, endless activity/busy-ness, mind-numbing entertainment etc…
These responses are understandable, and even totally valid at certain times (I definitely avoid and switch off when I feel I need too)… but as a long-term strategy, blocking our feeling responses to our world can have dire consequences both personally and globally.
“When our grief cannot be spoken, it falls into the shadow and re-arises in us as symptoms. So many of us are depressed, anxious, and lonely. We struggle with addictions and find ourselves moving at a breathless pace, trying to keep up with the machinery of culture.”
When we suppress our feelings- our empathy, imagination, eros, instinct and access to the sub-conscious are all diminished. We are robbed of life-force and creativity.
We also lose connection to the intelligence and vital communicative feedback loops of the larger interconnected system of which we are a part, and the impulse to respond in defence of our world/our own lives.
“When we are fearful, and the odds are running against us, it is easy to let the heart and mind go numb. Because the perils facing us are so pervasive, and yet often hard to see, this numbing touches us all. No one is unaffected by it. No one is immune to doubt, denial, or disbelief about the severity of our situation—and about our power to change it. Yet of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear warfare, none is so great as the deadening of our response. The numbing of mind and heart is already upon us—in the diversions, we create for ourselves as individuals and nations, in the fights we pick, the aims we pursue, the stuff we buy.” – Joanna Macy
In a potent body of work I’ve been immersing in called ‘The Work that Reconnects’ (also known as Deep Ecology)- the 2nd of the four primary themes we explore is titled ‘Honoring Our Pain For The World’ and in this phase of the workshop we engage a series of group processes and rituals that intentionally bring awareness to the feeling responses we have to our world- which may include fear, rage, grief, despair, loneliness and guilt among many others.
We acknowledge their presence as reminders of our deep interconnectedness, and as valuable and intelligent communications from the larger system in which we are embedded.
“Our broken hearts have the potential to open us to a wider sense of identity, one capable of seeing through the partitions that have segregated self from world. Through grief, we are initiated into a more inclusive conversation between our singular lives and the soul of the world. We are coming to understand that there is no isolated self stranded in the cosmos; we are participants in an entwined and entangled net of connections with a continuous exchange of light, air, gravity, thought, color, and sound, all coalescing in the elegant dance that is our shared life. It is the broken heart that can let slip into its core the shimmer of a salmon gliding just under the surface of the water, the startling arc of the swift, the wonder of Mozart, and the sheer beauty of sunrise” Francis Weller
During these processes, the group acts as an extended nervous system that allows us to access feelings that we might not have even known we had- often finding ourselves being catalyzed and mirrored by those in the circle.
“Grief has never been private; it has always been communal. Subconsciously, we are awaiting the presence of others, before we can feel safe enough to drop to our knees on the holy ground of sorrow.”
Something powerful happens when we are lovingly witnessed in the truth of how we feel… This companionship and validation can give us the courage we need to turn towards our pain with awareness and compassion, which often brings more fluidity and sometimes even total transformation of our inner state.
This intimacy then acts as a gateway that can lead us into a deeper connection with each other and our world… We realize that we are not alone and that so many of us feel the same.
When we open into the pain, we also open into deep caring and love for our world- and may even move through the illusory boundaries that have created a sense of us being apart from each other in the 1st end place.
Grief reveals the interpenetrating reality of our time: we are not isolated cells partitioned off from other cells; we have semipermeable membranes that make possible an ongoing exchange with the great body of life. We register in our psyches, consciously or not, the fact of our shared sorrows. Learning to welcome, hold, and metabolize these sorrows is the work of a lifetime– Francis Weller
In the 3rd phase of ‘The Work that Reconnects’, we then go even deeper into widening this sense of Self and dissolving boundaries of separation before moving into the 4th and final stage where we look at ways to nourish compassionate action that can flow through our particular gifts in connection with, and in reinforcement of the actions of myriads of others in a non-linear fashion whose impacts are unpredictable and immeasurable.
“Through our ability to acknowledge the layers of loss, we can truly discover our capacity to respond, to protect, and to restore what has been damaged. Grief registers the sorrows that befall everything that matters deeply to our souls. Our hearts are kept flexible, fluid, and open to the world through this closeness with loss.”- Francis Weller
This process can free up tremendous amounts of energy, creativity and space and allow the world to start acting through us in its own self-defence.
I want this pain to bring us closer to each other… to remind us how deeply we need each other… to inspire us to act on behalf of our world and all the generations to come… to bring me home to the truth of interbeing.
“There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.”