But people are creating spaces and structures to share our despair. It may not make it much easier, but at least we have allies. Here is some of what I have turned up in the past week.
I searched for "grief activism" and most of the articles were about what I consider "mainstream activism"--taking action about an issue in a way that doesn't challenge the status quo, but works within the system on reform. The grief was usually about a personal loss, rather than about the grief for the whole world.
This gem about Dark Optimism stood out from the rest, and I am pleased to make the acquaintance of Shaun Chamberlin, who came by the blog here to say hi after I commented over there. This quote stood out to me: "Even if we are into a world of unstoppable, runaway climate change, for example. There’s still love to do, there’s still positive change to make in the world."
Yesterday, I sat by the creek where I live--a creek I have not visited in months--and cried. I've been feeling so much despair about the world (I don't need to name the things that are overwhelming for someone who dreams of a world where we nurture all life). And I broke through into more clarity. What I need to grieve is not just the tragedies that are happening now. I remembered that when I was a very young child, and my mom first told me about all the suffering in the world, I thought, "I'm gonna fix it when I grow up!" I was so sure of this. I've been trying to hold on to this image of my adult self that can save the world. But I don't think I can; it doesn't seem possible any more. I need to be honest with myself.
This is why the Dark Mountain project--something I read about in the interview above--speaks to me. The person who started this movement says that we need to be honest with ourselves. Movements like 350.org are selling us a lie--that we can stop climate change. We can't. It is already on us, and do we really think we are going to get everyone on board in time to stop it? At best we can hope to slow it down, and even more realistically, it is time to think about adapting to a world that is going to be very difficult to survive.
On the other hand, as I was crying by the creek there and admitting how devastated I am that I cannot save the world as I wished, that I cannot save the tigers from extinction--or bring back those creatures already lost--I had another epiphany. My giving up on hope for the world is a way of prematurely breaking up with a dearly, dearly, beloved, in fear of having my heart broken when they break up with me. I hear this happens in human relationships, although I haven't practiced it myself. Yet I am doing it with the world, listening to the media telling me we are beyond hope, and withdrawing into myself, instead of listening to the creek and the birds (who were somewhat startled by my sobs).
I apologized to the world for closing my heart in fear of the pain of seeing death of any more life that I care about. It won't protect me anyway. This beautiful practice from Joanna Macy is a healthy way to let this suffering move through in an honest way that I believe promotes resiliency in the face of a world both in the middle of a mass extinction and on the edge of another dark age. It helps me remember not to break up with this world I love so much because she is dying of cancer or whatever other metaphor we can ascribe to the transgressions of human civilization.
I also gratefully return to the tools Nonviolent Communications offers for grief work. It uses Universal Human Needs as the focal point for mourning loss of any kind. I want to share a way to do this in steps, but keep in mind that it in real life it is not always this neat and orderly. I find it helpful to journal about these things, also allowing myself to write anything that wants to come through my pen. I can always come back to the prompts when I run out of spontaneous expression.
You may want to do this exercise with an ally and share as you go along, in a place where you won't be disturbed and can express yourself with tears and other noises comfortably if you wish.
- What is the loss you are grieving? A person dying, a relationship changing, an action you regret, an experience that was violating (such as assault)? Is it the extinction of a beloved species, the clear-cutting of a local grove of trees, or a conversation you had with a family member in which they re-ified racism, human supremacism, rape culture, etc?
- What needs (see list above) were not met in this experience? If a person leaving, whether by death or break-up, what needs were met in that relationship that you fear won't be anymore? If it is an action you regret, what needs were not met by what you did? What values did you find yourself out of alignment with? What needs do you think would be met if this event stopped happening or hadn't happened? (I.e. safety for my community if a clearcut stops.)
- As you name these needs, what emotions arise in you? Stay with these. Pause to really feel them. If doing this with a friend, share the feelings and needs, and respond simply with, "I see you, and I honor you." It's OK to feel silly, or cry, or anywhere in between. If screaming your rage in a residential area, using a pillow may help prevent neighbors from worrying that someone is in danger.
- Writing or speaking aloud, connect the feelings to needs, if you haven't already done so yet. For example, if the grief is about a relationship de-escalating, it might be, "I am so afraid that I will never experience intimacy or shared sensuality again." For me, when I am mourning tigers and foxes going extinct, I grieve for the loss of beauty. I feel hopelessness and despair. What kind of world is it without these beings? Do I even want to live in a tiger-less world?
- As your grief naturally runs its course, let yourself come into a more relieved, still place. It isn't over permanently, especially for the global tragedies that never seem to cease bombarding us. But for now, hopefully you have a clearer mind and can stand strong in your next actions coming from a place of a heart ready to love this tragic world.
- What comes to you to in this moment? Are there any actions you feel led to take from this place of clarity? When I did this kind of exercise with a group once, my next action was to go speak to a local conservative group about de-escalating the antagonism in our town between political factions! It was very clear to me that that is how I could promote an intact, whole, world in my sphere of influence. Even though it was scary--and different from what everyone else I knew was doing--I felt guided by a powerful sense of purpose and clarity. Write down your assignment(s) from your clear-hearted self, to remind you in case you forget.
I see you, and I honor you.