Saturday, March 28, 2015

Grief Around the World

In my last post, Grief & Innocence, I discussed some of the ways grief shows up, and is needed, for those of us living activist and counter-cultural lifestyles. When people speak and write about grief, it may usually seem like an abstract, amorphous, overwhelming, and unworkable emotion that we have no control over and, too often, no support in.

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 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.
  1. 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?
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
 If you feel comfortable doing so in a public forum, please share any way that this process served you in the comments section. Comments about what didn't speak to you or was difficult are also, of course, welcome.

I see you, and I honor you.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Grief & Innocence

I've been thinking about the importance of grief lately, about how we work with grief in the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community, and about how important it is in the lives of activists. Then something timely happened. A long-distance friend who has participated in some of my teleconference NVC offerings for activists asked if I had heard what happened at the rainbow gathering in Florida (yes, I know it is debated whether or not this was a "true" rainbow gathering, but that is how I got the news).

 I quickly did a news search and discovered two people were seriously injured and one shot dead at a rainbow-inspired gathering in Florida. While these people may not be your definition of "activist," they are at least on the periphery of a wider counter-cultural group, many of whom participate in social change in some shape or form.

In the wake of this event newspapers are publishing various reports that seem fairly unbiased, but do not tell the whole story as I am hearing on rainbow list servs and from friends. All that I got from the news was the injuries, nothing about how or why the fight broke out. There was alcohol involved. But it sounds like more specifically, there was a fight over burning tires, taking pictures, and a phone thrown in a fire.

What was most interesting to me is what people were saying in the comments of these articles. The rainbow-affiliated folks are mostly saying that this gathering was not affiliated with the rainbow gathering. This is many people's first instinct: to disassociate, because they (we) don't want to suffer the consequences of a reputation as an unsafe place that locals don't want coming to their town. The regular rainbow attenders point out the differences between this gathering and the usual rainbow way of doing things: alcohol vs no alcohol, permits vs no permits. As I read these comments, I felt both distant from the situation and sad. I wrote on one news site that, regardless of the choices these folks made and the unwanted repercussions that may have on people's biases about rainbow gatherings, this is a sad time for the injured folks and their friends and families. I wished them compassion and healing in their grief.

Behind the scenes, on rainbow list servs, for example, things are a little different. Some people are asking for help fundraising for the medical expenses of one of those critically injured, and also for the costs of transporting remains of the person who died to his family. Others are critiquing the folks more specifically, having met them, saying they will not send money because this was a matter of inevitability for someone (choosing to?) live that lifestyle.

There is more than one thing to grieve in this situation. There is grief for the individual who died, for those injured, and for how this will affect all those affiliated with the rainbow gathering--for taking a big step back in any progress made towards cultivating trust with more conservative society. People are angry, which we are told is a normal part of grief.

There is a lot to be angry about in this world.  I feel anger about many things. I'm angry that someone (whom I was involved with) recently told me that the creators of my new job are taking credit for my work, when I have seen these people work hard over the past year to create an amazing way for people with my skill set to have livelihood. That person assumed it is something to write off as just more exploitative capitalism, it seems, when I see it as an alternative to the capitalist model. Their dogma seemed to be that unless you have a co-op structure, a business cannot have integrity. I am sick of dogma all around: mainstream dogma and counter-cultural dogma. No matter what, when you have dogma, someone's needs don't matter. That's what many of those conversations on all those news sites demonstrate, too.

That's how many of activists talk about the causes we care about, myself included. We turn the tables and say, OK, you people in power who have been denying others the ability to meet their needs--now it's your turn to not matter! We don't empathize with all parties (one exception to this, often, is the Quaker community, which I am grateful to be a part of). We activists had a conversion experience at some point, where we "awakened to the light" of racism or environmental degradation, or whatever it is, and we forget what it was like to be on the other side of that divide.

Take driving cars, for example. Most of my community accepts as fact that the ethical mode of transportation is bicycles, or public transit, or at least ridesharing. I remember a time, though, when cruising around in a car, blasting the radio and guessing which song would come on next, while going through a drive thru for soft tacos, was the height of excitement. I was very young when I experienced this--before nine years old I would frequently do this with my mom and aunt. I felt joy at this freedom a car could bring.

I wonder how many environmental activists were born into green families, and how many have had a similar experience to me. Who can remember a time when car driving was an innocent activity (as far as we knew)? Is this something we have ever taken the time to grieve?

I sometimes still feel that rush when I find an excuse to use a car (my roommates let me borrow theirs) and I am cruising around town. I get that high. I feel supercool. No, it isn't worth the extinction of polar bears or drowning of island nations--but wouldn't it be great if there was not a cost? If we could have both, wouldn't we want it all?

I'm not saying we should focus on tech solutions. I don't think that is the answer to our world's problems, at least not the main one.

What I'm saying is that, despite my usual hesitance to use the word "shaman" for reasons of cultural appropriation and misapplication of the term, there is one definition I often see for that word that I find applicable here: having one foot in both worlds. Can I keep one foot in that world of childhood in which cars were not the evil things they are now, but tools that could be used to access joy, and one foot in this one, where the planet is literally dying from the burning of fossil fuels, and I am willing to sacrifice--and grieve--that lost innocence, because it is necessary to care for life? Can I, by keeping one foot in each world, help others cross that emotional and perceptual boundary, help them re-orient?

Anger is part of grief. We have to roll with whatever emotions come up. There is a type of madness that wards off grief, but there is also authentic rage. Both are important; one for surviving until you have room to process, and the other one for moving on and moving forward.

I think, though, that activists get stuck in the anger portion of our grief, because we haven't created safe spaces to delve into the other feelings we have about our planet's tragedy. I have tried to create those spaces in my sphere of influence. I hope this can be one here. If you feel called to share stories of what you are grieving, please do so below. What innocence have you lost from before you were awakened to injustice? And how can remembering that help us to speak to those who aren't yet ready to give it up?


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