On Thursday, September 19th, 2019 (the night before the start of the Fall 2019 week of global climate strikes), I had the opportunity to speak on a virtual panel (hosted by the Canadian Ecopsychology Network) with three wonderful eco-professionals — Rebekah Hart, Ann Ronald, & Anthony Wilson. The title of the panel discussion was, “Earth Activism & Ecopsychology.”
We reflected on a variety of questions together: How can we heal ourselves and be activists on behalf of ALL life? What earth ethics do we need to consider? What does it feel like working in this field during times of increasing disintegration of the natural world? What communities of support are there? How are you personally addressing this long natural emergency?
Below is a transcript of my contribution (in the above video, my piece of the puzzle starts @ 14:20). I hope my words are meaningful and useful.
Challenging. Confusing. Complex. These are a few of the words that come to mind as I reflect on my experience living through the climate emergency.
Almost daily I am hit by waves of anxiety, anguish, and anger. Anxiety about not knowing what life will look life for myself, my kids, and my loved ones, as the climate continues unravelling. Anguish over the senseless and purposeless ecological destruction that is catalyzing the crisis. Anger at the industrial growth society and at those who adamantly defend it.
One way I am sustained is by spending time in local natural places. In these special places, I feel nourished, enlivened. Being with nature reminds me of what matters most: authenticity, integrity, relationship. Nature also expands my identity. She pushes me beyond my small, fearful ego. I hear her whisper: “Remember Eric: life will persevere.” She always does.
Thus, my relationship with nature precipitates both anxiety & aliveness, pain & pleasure, hurt & hope.
I often find myself trying to hold to only the ‘positive’ half of my relationship with nature, however. Those parts of the relationship that feed me and feel good.
My initial reaction to planetary pain is to pull back. To retract my self from interbeing and into separation. Though trying to hold suffering at a distance seems the natural, safe thing to do — without fail, it always ends up sapping my vitality. Miriam Greenspan suggests why. She notes that in opening to interbeing, we avail our ‘selves,’
Not only to pain, adversity, loss, and death, but also to the things we most desire and cherish: to love, intimacy, creativity, sex, birth, wonder; to being truly touched by another human being, being truly seen for who we are; to the sheer adventure of being alive; to the sacred spirit that imbues the world….It is the open heart, fragile but strong, easily wounded but capable of great mercy and love. When we are most vulnerable, we are most alive, most open to all the dimensions of existence. (Greenspan, 2003, p. 39)
Moreover, Joanna Macy reminds me that the pain I feel is purposive:
“Feeling pain for the world is as natural to us as the food and air we draw upon to fashion who we are. It is inseparable from the currents of matter, energy, and information that flow through us and sustain us as interconnected open systems. We are not closed off from the world, but integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When that body is traumatized, we sense that trauma too. When it falters and sickens, we feel its pain, whether we pay attention to it or not.
That pain is the price of consciousness in a threatened and suffering world. It is not only natural: it is an absolutely necessary component of our collective healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action.” (Macy & Brown, 2014, p. 21)
Professionally, as a psychotherapist, I am dedicated to remediating individual’s psychological pain. I love my vocation. I regularly get to witness people restore their wholeness, re-discover their true selves, and grow into the people nature intended them to be.
While working at the individual scale is important (and ultimately ripples out into larger dimensions which are not truly distinct), working solely at the individual scale is not enough.
Now — perhaps more than ever before — it feels imprudent to ignore increasingly predatory social structures and collapsing ecological systems.
Not only do these larger systems shape and sustain psychological distress — think, dysfunctional families, fractured communities, social injustice, eco-anxiety, climate trauma — true healing at all scales (individual, social, and ecological) will only be possible after a foundational reformulation of Westernized culture’s pathological ideals.
The voice of the earth continues to cry out. I hear her. So, too, do many of my clients. And, I think the courageous youth galvanizing climate action the world over are resonating with her cries, also.
I am heeding nature’s call by more intentionally investing my self in widening circles. This is not comfortable for me (thank you introverted self), but I believe more visible, activist action is absolutely vital at this time.
Tomorrow, along with my 10-year-old daughter Natalie, and my 8-year-old son Gavin, I will be participating in a local climate march.
Driven by compassion, I will walk in solidarity with other suffering people and our earthly home.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I encounter some healing along the way.