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Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:04 AM

Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help

Have you ever known someone who cited the Anthropocene in a dating profile? Who doled out carbon offset gift certificates at the holidays? Who sees new babies and immediately flashes to the approximately 15 tons of carbon emissions the average American emits per year? Who walks around shops thinking about where all the packaging ends up? You do now.

As much as I want to chain myself to an old-growth tree (thanks, “The Overstory”), my job at The Times precludes me from going all in as an activist. So I donate to environmental and humane causes, eat vegan, compost, take public transport, carry around bamboo utensils, post alarming articles on Facebook, buy second hand and stock up on offsets — all decisions I have the luxury to make. And yet none of it has been balm.

Asking some people around me how they were faring did not help. I heard that it was too late anyway. That I shouldn’t care since I don’t have kids. That the planet will, one distant day at least, be fine. One friend suggested that my climate angst was an extension of my melancholic leanings, which struck me as plausible, but not quite right. We know that the future is looking bad, that the present already is, and that inaction, especially here in America, is making it all worse. But how are we supposed to live in our hearts and souls with such an existential threat that is also, as birds and bees vanish and trees topple and die, so excruciatingly intimate?

Finally this fall, after a kayaking trip to Alaska prompted by a desire to see glaciers while they still exist — and being greeted by wildfires — I resolved to seek answers.

And what I learned, in the Red Hook workshop and in long conversations with psychologists, deep ecologists, an indigenous activist and Western Buddhists, was more or less a prescription for handling climate grief.

It looks like this: Live like the crisis is urgent. Embrace the pain, but don’t stop there. Seek out a spiritual path to forge gratitude, compassion and acceptance, because operating out of denial, anger or fear only hurts us in the end.

Zhiwa Woodbury, an eco-psychologist, believes that we are collectively experiencing climate trauma, of which we are both perpetrators and victims — our assault on the biosphere is an assault on ourselves. Altering habits like how we eat can make people feel more empowered and less overwhelmed, he said, and can shift our relationship with the natural world. After all, the belief that natural resources exist for our heedless exploitation got us to this point in the first place (and made us none the happier). “It makes us feel good that we’re doing something and it gets back to the idea of shared responsibility,” Mr. Woodbury said. “The idea that individuals are powerless only exists because we’ve made them feel powerless.”

Embracing the pain was something I struggled with more. Didn’t we deserve to feel bad? Maybe. But feeling despair is itself a kind avoidance. “What despair is telling you is that you haven’t processed your emotions,” Mr. Woodbury said.

In the Red Hook workshop, which used the pioneering decades-old work of the environmental grief activist Joanna Macy, the facilitator, Jess Serrante, said something that hit me like a thunderclap.

“Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world,” she told us. “We feel such depths of despair because we love the planet so much.”

Several psychologists told me they are telling the same thing to patients who are grappling with eco-despair: Feeling depressed about the crisis is actually a sane, healthy response. Yet as a culture, we pathologize depression as a personal failing, and as individuals, we avoid it, partly, Ms. Serrante said, out of the fear that if we dive in we won’t emerge. But that causes us to shut down. By jumping into the pain, it can alchemize into something bigger, Ms. Serrante told us, and reconnect us with our deepest selves.

The key is to channel it, through everyday actions or joining wider movements, and also to figure out a way to face it without being controlled by it, because operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out. That is where the spiritual component comes in — to find a way to move to a place not of tacit acceptance, but of fierce, roaring compassion.

Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Leonard both got burned out by environmental advocacy and found emotional resilience in Buddhist practices and a more compassionate view of human nature. “There’s nothing more powerful than a broken heart, as long as you have a spiritual container to hold it,” Mr. Woodbury told me.

Afterward, stepping onto the baking sidewalk, I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld.

As someone who has wrestled with ecological despair for the last 15 years, I can attest to the validity of the insights in this article. Especially resonant is Joanna Macy's observation, “Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world.” This realization has helped me more than anything, as I searched for reasons not to walk out on life.

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Reply Apocalypse Got You Down? Maybe This Will Help (Original post)
The_jackalope Nov 2019 OP
cilla4progress Nov 2019 #1
Canoe52 Nov 2019 #2
Kitchari Nov 2019 #3
2naSalit Nov 2019 #4
IndyOp Nov 2019 #5
FirstLight Nov 2019 #6
The_jackalope Nov 2019 #7
Boomer Nov 2019 #8

Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:23 AM

1. Oh, Jack....

This touches me deeply. Thank you.

I am experiencing climate anxiety, as our dry inland Pacific NW is seeing drier and warmer conditions than normal so far this Fall.

This can lead to an ever-shorter irrigation season, leaving dry pastures and surrounding forest, and alarmingly heightened risk of more wildfires in the area again next summer.

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:24 AM

2. Very powerful, it helped me a lot, thanks for sharing!

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 10:25 AM

3. Agree

From the article: "operating out of fear, anger and blame burns us out" -- we need that "fierce, roaring compassion" that this author conveys. 
This is the DU member formerly known as Kitchari.

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 11:04 AM

4. K&R

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 11:12 AM

5. Thank you. I've been thinking like this for a while -

I feel some peace when I think about returning to a spiritual practice but have been dragging my feet creating time and space. Any and all reminders are appreciated.
This is the DU member formerly known as IndyOp.

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 01:53 PM

6. Powerful...

Thanks for sharing this.

Lots to process

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 04:01 PM

7. Acceptance is a wonderful coping mechanism

IMO modern techno-industrial civilization is well past the point of no return. Given the existing damage to the biosphere and the utter intransigence of collective human nature when faced with a choice between denial and self-deprivation, the chance that we will halt or even slow our overall trajectory is approximately zero. That is my place of acceptance.

But even with such a bleak outlook, there is still room for, and reasons for, action.

In the words of writer William Gibson, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." The same can be said of the onrushing ecological calamity. There is always a chance that personal action can affect local conditions even if it doesn't keep the future from arriving on schedule.

My second reason for action is that it affects one's inner world as much as the outer world. There is much to be said for going into a perilous future knowing I have done what I could given my resources.

In times like these, each of us has a right, or even an obligation, to do what we think is right.

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Response to The_jackalope (Original post)

Sun Nov 17, 2019, 05:56 PM

8. I try to take my cue from animals

Animals grieve, but only for specific individuals that touch their life. They don't grieve for the death of concepts such as species, future generations or a way of life. They live in the moment, and they take each new moment as it comes.
This is the DU member formerly known as Boomer.

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