I remember coming home from school one day back in the 8th grade -- to find that the field next door had been ripped out and marked for development. Every tree was gone, the sled hill was gone, my underground fort gone, all life was gone. And the first thing to pull tears to my eyes and bring a wail to my throat, looking out at the raped landscape before me, was thinking about all the pheasants that had suddenly lost their home.
My family used to put corn out for those pheasants, the male and all his hens, and watch them one by one scurry over to eat. Multiply that by thousands with all that I have witnessed since then, locally and internationally... it can be a bit overwhelming. And how easy it is to begin to tune it all out.
Is this despair okay? What do we do with it? And what happens when we do nothing, or bury it? And what would a workshop on environmental despair accomplish? (March 11-13 at the Neah-ta-wanta Inn on Mission Peninsula.)
Despair for our world is natural and healthy. Its as normal as grieving over the death of someone you love. It is analogous to feeling the pain that would come from losing an arm, yet extends beyond our separate selves, beyond our individual wants and needs. And this despair is actually a testimony to our interconnectedness with life and all other beings. It is akin to the original meaning of compassion: suffering with. It is the distress we feel in connection with the larger whole of which we are a part. It is our pain for the world and no one is exempt from that pain (Macy, 1995).
In western culture, unfortunately, to state that such despair is natural and healthy is not stating the obvious, but stating what is usually denied, repressed, ignored, and even worse ridiculed. Crying for pheasants at the age of 13 can be easily rationalized, but what about at the age of 41 or 53 or 72? Its not generally acceptable to show outwardly our despair for the world. Its as if theres an invisible force keeping us quiet, vocally and through our actions. In keeping quiet, we turn to other distractions. We complain to those who agree with us, but we dont vote. We worry about our grandchildren, but we dont join a cause and fight for what we believe. We for some reason always feel exhausted and just dont have time. We work our jobs and find respite in TV. We feel paralyzed.
SHARING THE PAIN
Ive always believed that what appears to be public apathy toward environmental degradation is but a fear of experiencing and expressing this pain (well, and ignorance ) and that, once it is acknowledged and shared, it opens the way to our power. And I dont mean power over; Im talking power within, the power to act, the creative power that comes from reconnecting to the larger web of life.
Information about the world, without processing it psychologically and emotionally, only cripples our ability to fully respond on the cognitive level. It takes a lot of energy to repress what we are experiencing and feeling, and that repression has consequences. It keeps us from feeling true joy and from living fully and diminishes our ability to love. We sometimes unknowingly take it out on others around us. It comes out in our bodies, through pain and illness. And, meanwhile, little in the world changes.
Yet, when we honor and express our despair rather than deny or repress it, when we are willing and courageous enough to go into the darkness, it actually releases energy, clears the mind, and reconnects us with something larger. It can empower our creative response as true and effective agents of peace, justice, and stewardship. Especially with the support of a validating community, or group, sharing is a sacred way of moving beyond numbness and powerlessness into action.
GETTING PAST IT
So, how do you address your own despair? Matthew Fox tells us The only way to learn compassion is through our own broken hearts; we have to back up and pass through our own pain.
It is important to first acknowledge that, at some level, you are having an emotional response to the pain of the world. From this can come permission to feel what it is you are feeling. Having others support, those who can validate you and help to hold your pain without judging it, fixing it, or soothing it away, is at times crucial, for despair can become immobilizing. Having healthy outlets for your emotions, such as through art work, journaling, therapeutic dance, music, being in and listening to Nature, meditation and prayer, can also serve as intentional ways to release.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. --Carl Jung.
It is important to have an awareness of how you tend to personally avoid your emotions, as most of us are quite skilled at distraction. It might be through getting busy and doing anything. It might be watching TV, surfing the web, or seeking out social situations. And it may simply be through the act of thinking. Thinking (or analyzing, or problem solving, whatever you want to call it) pulls us into the head and out of the body, where emotions lie. If you are aware of how you distract yourself, then youll be better able to stay with the feelings.
Lisa Franseen, Ph.D, and co-facilitators John Schneider, PhD; Sally Van Vleck, RYT are conducting a workshop on coping with environmental despair on the weekend of March 11-13. The workshop will draw from the techniques of JoAnna Macy, an activist in the civil rights and peace movements. Activities include art work, music, yoga, walks, ecotherapy, meditation and more. For information, contact www.nrec.org,
1-800-220-1415 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.