3 Ways to Be Hopeful in the Age of Climate Change

I was so fortunate to have been able to attend a workshop recently on the topic of Active Hope, as defined by ecologist, author and 21st century-thought leader, Joanna Macy. Built around her book of the same title, facilitators took our group on a journey through stages of gratitude & pain, into a visionary place from which we can search out the deepest reserves of human potentiality, positivity, and healing- for the planet and ourselves.

This was a much needed workshop for me. We're enduring a systematic, near-total strangulation of much-needed, vulnerable & highly personal, collective dialogue about the psycho-spiritual effects of climate change, loss of species, resource scarcity, et al. As one participant conveyed so beautifully, if sadly, "there is a base anxiety, a sort of pervasive worry that I feel almost constantly now." I cried in that moment.

All of us are affected by climate change, by the greed and wanton recklessness of corporate greed/modern imperialism, by devastating planetary destruction, and by a sense of helplessness and guilt about our own contribution to the Great Problem. Some of us feel it acutely, and deeply despair, or rage, or shout in the streets or in our homes. Others feel it more chronically, as my new friend does. As I do. And for some, it is simply too much, too heavy to even face, and they are shut down completely. These are the ones who need the most love, believe it or not. Often, we move through all three of these manifestations of our sorrow, and many more ways of experiencing/avoiding this very intense age in our planet's history.

However we experience it, it's worthwhile to say it again: We are all affected by climate change, and by the on-going degradation of our magnificent planet. Equally worth repeating is that there is hope. I think most of us care in the sincerest of ways, but just don't always know what to do. Or, we feel our efforts are not worthwhile. 

my son, discovering dandelion wishes this Spring.

my son, discovering dandelion wishes this Spring.

None of us can tell how long we've all got on this Earth or what the world will look like for our children, but we can imagine the best while acknowledging the worst and work towards meaningful, palpable change.

Personally, I would rather die trying to save the planet, caring for every living thing I come across, striving to cleanse my own narcissism and despair, and teaching my son responsibility for himself and his home... I would rather relish the magic of being alive than sit around feeling helpless- or worse, cycnical: repeating the lie that it doesn't matter, so why try. 

But! It's so much easier said than done. Below are three things that really stood out for me from the workshop. Perhaps you will find them useful. Find info below on future Active Hope events.


#1: Sharing in gratitude with loved ones is powerful.

We hear a lot about gratitude these days. And in our private minds and unique personal ways, no doubt many of us practice gratitude. What really struck me in the workshop was the power of expressing it to someone or in a group setting, and actively listening to someone express gratitude by taking turns and really tending to each other. Watching someone light up, seeing your own Light be lit- I really can't recommend this one enough.

Spend some time with someone you love today. Keep eye contact. Don't think about what you're going to say. Ask one question at a time, and then switch asker/speaker roles. Some great questions are: who is someone who you are grateful for because they truly believed in you? What do you love about living on planet Earth at this time? What is a magical place from your childhood or adulthood that has been special to you? Appreciate the person that each person you pass in your day has their humanity, their reason for being here at this time, a story to share.

#2: Experiencing your pain and sadness about the state of the world is good medicine.

Again, let's shatter the invisible glass between us, and share our pain about climate change and the insanity of many aspects of our culture with each other. I am talking about something different than political dialogue, or getting all amped up, or just generally bitching about things. All of that is useful at times. But what we explored here was an exercise similar to the gratitude one, but the questions were more like this: What about living on the Earth at this time brings your sorrow? What is one thing that seems lost or we are losing that is very hard for you? What scares you most? 

Let's cry together, for real. Men, you too! Let. it. out. I'm not gonna lie, it gets more painful before the relief comes. You are letting the rivers of the earth run through you, and through whomever you do the work with. When you see me cry, your heart will know, it's happening- this climate change thing- and it is scary. But all rivers lead to the wide open, purifying ocean. They must. Actively listening to each other was again really emphasized. Just asking each other, listening- not a dialogue so much as a witnessing. I don't think we do this enough in our culture. 

photo cred: Sea Kin

photo cred: Sea Kin

"As our pain for the world arises from our systemic interexistence, so does our power." -Joanna Macy

Ironically, it is here in shared grief that I started to get a sense of my own and the Earth's reserves and capacity for resilience. There is something called the Life/Death/Life cycle, known by storytellers and shamans and wise ones since time-out-of-mind. It is the basic truth, found over and over in the natural world, that life always follows death, that light always follows dark, and that day always follows night. Every epic tale is basically built on this truth. 

So, I recommend to share in your pain with others- in ceremony, in song, around the fire, lying in bed looking into each other's eyes, at the top of a mountain trail... wherever and whenever you need to. In recognizing and naming your fears, you become more empowered, more human. You become more resolved, more connected, and surprisingly more resilient. 

#3: There are many ways to be an activist. 

I often have beat myself up for not being constantly out there, "on the front lines," rallying, protesting in the streets, volunteering lots of hours, chaining myself to trees, becoming a lobbyist. But what was pointed out during the workshop was that, yes, this is one way to do the work. But there are many ways. Making conscious, everyday choices makes you an activist. Mending your clothes makes you an activist. Teaching your children compassion for all living things makes you an activist. Eating less meat, or none at all, makes you an activist. Revolting against a society that predominately and pervasively refers to its sacred beings as mere "consumers" by really considering what you need and what you don't- makes you an activist! Attaining something new and beautiful that fits beautifully into our life- this can be wonderful. But ... deciding not to using shopping as therapy is actually a subversive, revolutionary act! And it makes you an activist. 

Beyond the things you do in your daily life to help the planet, there are many other ways to integrate activism into your career, business, and way you relate to others or raise your kids. I am betting that if you are reading this, you are more of activist than you may have thought. Alone, it doesn't seem like much. Together- we will move mountains. Even being in marketing can be amazing, because I keep attracting clients who I truly believe are making this world a better place, and so helping them succeed and be seen is a worthy cause! 

Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you." We talk a lot about humans being a "cancer" on the Earth, and this is not without truth. But there is another, equally powerful storyline available to us that was pointed out during the workshop. It is this: 

Every. single. act. you do to benefit the Earth makes you part of her immune system. In our bodies, there is a powerful network of cells, tissue, and organs protecting us. It is no different on the face of the Earth.

I hope you will spend your day feeling like a cure, a visionary, a needed soul on this planet at this time, immeasurably important and impactful, part of something much bigger than just you, completely connected, dependent upon and in awe of the Earth.

For more info on Active Hope & transformative learning workshops in the Portland, OR area, please visit Root Down, Rise Up and The Wayfinding Academy. Also you can check out more on "the work that reconnects" with Joanna Macy and the Active Hope FB page. Or, simply have a look at the film below (you have to go to Vimeo):