Holding Space for Ecological Grief

 Source: https://pixabay.com/en/milkweed-summer-nature-plant-561041/

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/milkweed-summer-nature-plant-561041/

Every day it seems we are bombarded with new information about climate change--record temperatures, influxes of migrations, devastating news about wildlife and wild spaces, and countless other issues. As the reality of climate change becomes more and more undeniably apparent, the real need to hold space for ecological grief is critical.

Turning Up the Temperature & Turning Up the Fear

I remember learning about climate change in school in the early 90s. Back then it was called 'global warming' and we were assured that the world's scientists were working around the clock to take care of it so that we would never have to worry about its impact.

But over the last nearly 30 years now, that narrative has changed. A rising level of fear seems to now parallel the rising temperatures around the world.

To a degree, this fear is perhaps politically necessary. Whether you believe that climate change can be reversed, or have accepted that its influence in our lives is now just something we must make peace with, fear can be a useful motivator. Our catastrophic and apocalyptic imaginations about what could happen as the climate changes can inspire the kind of massive cultural shifts needed to maximize human survival.

At the same time, these modes of thinking leave us prone to existential crisis. And in that state of fear and dread, we are much easier to manipulate, and much more likely to look for superficial solutions to institutional level problems. Plastic straw bans, anyone?

Sitting With Grief

The reality of human existence though is that we are challenged, we experience suffering, we experience trauma, and we need to confront and hold these parts of ourselves if we are ever to heal beyond them. This reaction to climate trauma--the idea of holding space for or sitting with grief--runs contrary to most of the solutions presented to us. 

There are a thousand green-washed ideas out there which upon further evaluation aren't very helpful or relevant. And I'm not just talking about plastic straw bans. Given the inconvenient truth of animal agriculture's ecological impact and the outrageous economics of animal products, 'sustainable' or 'humane' animal agriculture is another great example of superficial changes resulting in little impact to the larger problem.

Advertising and business sectors know that we make poor consumer choices when emotionally triggered into more docile states. From an economic perspective, this is great news! When we're sad or feeling lonely, fat, unfulfilled, or depressed, we buy more, and we buy worse. Later on, these consumption choices can even open up new frontiers of poor choices as we reckon with the consequences of our previous actions. 

So while the apocalyptic doom and gloom of ecological activism may be helpful for stirring us into action, just like in the economic model I described above, the actions we choose in response aren't always meaningful or really helpful at all. 

As an alternative to this, what would happen if we got comfortable in our grief? I mean, what would happen if we chose to just allow ourselves to mourn, to feel ecological destruction, to grieve and worry and scream and work it out? What if our response to ecological trauma wasn't to look for a savior in the next election cycle, or to reach out for whatever 'green' goods and services are immediately marketed to us as the solution?

What will our resiliency look like?

My hypothesis is that our world would be vastly different if we took more time to breathe and sit with our emotions before buying or voting for solutions we haven't even had time to consider. Because really, as long as we're making decisions from a place of being emotionally triggered, we're making decisions not with the intention of correcting the problem but with the intention of alleviating the symptoms we feel in response to its existence. 

These are really two different issues. In the case of climate change, they are: (1) our emotional relationship to knowledge of climate devastation and change, and then (2) what we need to do to prepare for, accommodate, or change the situation.

It seems to me that in order for us to make the most informed decision about issue (2), then we need to resolve issue (1) first. And for better or worse, this is still a relatively new psychological frontier we are collectively reckoning with. Some of us may deal with ecological grief through traditional rituals like the funerals or mourning periods we would hold for any other living being. Some of us may need to talk it out or paint it out in therapy.

Whichever path you choose in holding space for your ecological grief, I want you to remember that humanity has known about climate change for nearly 100 years. Yes, we are later along in the timeline of addressing it. But taking time now to mourn before coming back to the problem is really just a blink of the eye in the scheme of how long this has been a human concern. Don't saddle yourself with the weight of the world's sins just because other generations chose not to act sooner.

The planet needs us to act from a place of balance, and inaction until we can do provide that state of consciousness might even be part of the solution.


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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to info@pat-mosley.com