I love the true story of a cellist who lived in Sarajevo during the war. Apparently, he insisted on going into the main square of the town where he lived and playing his cello, against the backdrop of bombs falling. A curious reporter asked him
“Are you mad? Why are you out here in the plaza playing music whilst they’re bombing?” and the cellist replied “Why are they bombing when I’m out here playing music?”
What we bring to a situation in terms of our story makes all the difference.
I recently watched an interesting interview with John Bell, a Dharma teacher, who listed a dozen or more narratives, or viewpoints that it’s possible to have about the predicament we find ourselves in.
(The Poetry of Predicament with John Bell “Right Living in a Time of Collapse – A Dharma Teacher’s Perspective https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy21i3KKyhA&t=2119s )
These narratives are incredibly important to understand – both in ourselves and in others. The narrative you have predicts almost everything else – how optimistic or hopeless you are about the crisis, how much you engage with it, and how you engage with it if you do.
Charles Eisenstein also majors on this idea in his latest book “Climate: A New Story”. Eisenstein even suggests that, from a morphic resonance perspective, which story of the future we hold actually summons that future into existence!
Of course we create stories about lots of things – including who we are, and what we’re capable of, how the past has shaped us and what the future is likely to hold.
I’m increasingly engaged in the work of supporting people who are suffering around climate grief or eco-anxiety, or struggling to come to terms with what this emergency means for them and those they love.
It’s often said that we live in post-truth times. Perhaps we always have, given that we’ve always created narratives.
It’s fascinating to me how, as humans, we are able to hold on to our narratives or stories – even in the face of ‘facts’ that fly in the face of our beliefs.
A very common example of a widely held core narrative in most developed countries hold to be true is that infinite economic growth is the keystone of a successful society. We can’t yet imagine anything else – even though all the ‘evidence’ suggests that we have to find other ways of living that won’t completely destroy our eco-systems.
Political beliefs are, of course, another example of constructed narratives. It often strikes me that an organisation like Extinction Rebellion – who I think have achieved so much in raising awareness in the general population – have sometimes missed a trick here. They really try to be inclusive, and yet so many of the arguments they use to ‘convince’ people to change are proposing solutions towards a future that horrifies many right-leaning people.
Giving up or changing our story can be challenging and uncomfortable – even painful. I’m reminded of the metaphor about how caterpillars become butterflies. They don’t just gracefully turn into a beautiful butterfly. Before that can happen, they first have to become mush – a kind of caterpillar soup!
This is what I see happening with many of the people I’m working with: They feel like the solid ground they’ve stood on their whole lives – their families, their careers, their sources of meaning – have all been whisked away.
So, what’s the story you’re telling yourself about climate change?
Here are 21 narratives I’m hearing:
- Humans are the problem. We’re selfish, short-sighted and driven by greed. We deserve our fate.
- We’re past the tipping point now of recovery. Game over.
- We can turn this around with creativity, technology and ingenuity. Look at all the amazing initiatives that are happening already!
- Social collapse is inevitable, or likely and already unfolding. The key thing now is preparation and adaptation to what is coming our way.
- Human extinction is likely and imminent.
- Governments and corporations won’t move fast enough to avert disaster.
- We can’t achieve climate justice without achieving social and racial justice, and there’s not enough time to do that.
- We’ll descend into fascism and authoritarianism as conditions deteriorate.
- It’s God’s plan. The rapture is coming. Bring it on.
- Climate crisis is a relationship problem. We have become disconnected from self, others, nature. Healing and loving all species, including humans, is the first step to healing the planet.
- What if it’s just the right challenge to sling-shot humanity to a higher consciousness? It’s a giant wake-up call.
- By believing in a doomsday narrative, we are summoning that narrative. Let’s summon a more positive future.
- As long as we meet our target of zero-carbon by 2050, all will be well.
- The spiritual truth is that nothing lasts, and impermanence is the only constant, and that includes our civilization and even our species. Accepting this is spiritual wisdom.
- Climate change is all a hoax anyway!
- Reducing our emissions is only going to make things worse, because of solar dimming.
- This is an amazing time to be alive, and we should all be grateful. We’re being asked to call forth the ‘better angels of our nature’.
- We don’t need nature to survive. We can grow meat in vats, and create domed cities where we are safe from the external heat and extreme weather events.
- If we just all did our bit and took individual responsibility for our life-style, we could halt and reverse GHG emissions.
- We’re all far too obsessed with GHG emissions. If by some miracle, they went to zero tomorrow, the planet and its eco-systems would still be dead or dying. Regeneration is much more important than emissions.
- None of this matters. We are infinite and eternal spiritual beings having a temporary human existence.
THE TRUTH IS WE DON’T KNOW HOW THIS WILL END
Nobody does, no matter how much certainty they have built into their narrative, or how convincing they sound.
But, the narratives we create about this really matter.
- Lots of listening with kindness and curiosity – especially to people with a different story
- Open, honest conversations with a wide range of people
- Deep personal reflection, and making a space for your own innate wisdom and guidance to help you navigate
- Extreme self-care (and care for others) – and finding ways to stay connected with your own health, resilience, well-being and aliveness – now more than ever!