Guest Writer: Elaine Jackson
There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.
~ Adrienne Rich
Being an environmentalist in Ontario right now is really hard. Obviously, the past three years have been frustrating and heartbreaking. It’s hard to manage the eco-grief, and the eco-anger. It’s hard to keep going. And even those who haven’t been watching and paying attention to environmental issues may be feeling sadness and despair as the long-predicted consequences of climate change and pollution begin to affect us in very real ways.
What is eco-grief?
The first step in dealing with these difficult emotions in response to the environmental crisis is to recognize two things: one, grief, sadness, anxiety (and a whole range of other feelings) are a completely rational response to this situation. Anyone who is paying attention should be alarmed, it’s just a matter of assessing the volume of our emotions and whether they are creating a mild, moderate, or debilitating level of distress. Acknowledging rather than repressing these feelings is the doorway to finding support and comfort. And two, although this may come as a shock, we were never designed to be happy all the time. Sadness, grief, and anger may be unpleasant, but in the absence of other mental health issues, we can have these emotions and still carry on productive and meaningful lives.
How do we handle it? By going in and going out
As we walk this road, which is new territory for all of us, I think that we have to work in two directions at once if we are going to make a difference. We have to go in, and we have to go out. We have to go small and we have to go big.
By going in, I mean that we need to practice self-care for our hearts and minds. We have to sit still and give ourselves space to feel what we’re feeling, and also we have to titrate how much despair and gloom we take in. Too much doom-scrolling on the internet leads to paralysis and hopelessness. But if we refuse to acknowledge our fears and feelings we’re likely to numb out on Netflix, or drown our sorrows in food, alcohol, or shopping—and nothing will be done.
Constructive ways to deal with these difficult emotions include artistic expression, counseling, meditation, music, yoga or exercise, and learning psychological or cognitive techniques designed to self-soothe. We’ll come back to these topics in future posts.
By going out, I mean getting involved in doing something. Pick an area you are particularly worried or upset about, or conversely that really lights you up, and then do some research. If for example, you’re interested in preserving a local wetland find out if there are a group of people already working on that. Educate yourself about the environmental organizations in your town, city or province. Sit down and figure out what you could manage in the way of contribution. Maybe you’re swamped and exhausted at work, but you could afford a regular monthly donation to an existing group. Maybe you’re short on money, but you could donate some time to organize a fundraiser, share social media posts, or write to your MPP. Getting involved can help move you out of hopelessness and sadness. The other huge advantage is that you can find support, and offer support, to other people who also care about your issue.
We can also go big and go small
As for going small and going big, going small means to really look at our own ethics and lifestyle choices. How can we change our purchasing, our daily choices, our holiday plans? And going big means looking at our cultural narratives, our consumerism, our willingness (or not) to pay more taxes or do without environmentally detrimental practices (like cheap seafood harvested with devastating consequences to other wildlife). Going big requires political will, consensus-building, and some agreement on collective values. The environmental crisis requires that we engage and act at both of these levels. Consumer choices alone will not make enough of a difference in the time that we have left.
We can turn thing around
I firmly believe that we still have the capacity to turn things around, and at least mitigate the damage to this beautiful planet that we share. We have the technology, we have the knowledge, and we have the inner tools that we need to make the transition. We’ll need to cooperate, change our expectations, and imagine different ways of doing and being, but we are beings who can adapt and be resilient when we choose to. What we mainly need now is the willingness and courage to take the first steps.
Elaine Jackson is a writer and yoga/meditation teacher who lives in rural East Gwillimbury, Ontario. Her book, Enough Already: 7 Yoga-Inspired Steps to Calm Amid Chaos is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon. You can find her at www.jacksonyoga.ca.