Levels of climate distress and eco-anxiety are rapidly increasing – especially amongst young people – according to the Climate Psychology Alliance and several other organisations.
I’m increasingly engaged in the work of supporting people who would describe themselves as suffering from climate grief or eco-anxiety, or struggling to come to terms with what this emergency means for them and those they love.
Some are activists engaged with Extinction Rebellion, some are members of the Positive Deep Adaptation Community. Some are leaders wishing to influence their companies and organisations. Some are community-builders involved in the Transition Town Network. Others are just going about their ‘normal lives’ but with mounting levels of anxiety about the future.
In 2009, I stumbled across a very simple understanding called the “Three Principles” about how the mind works and creates the human experience. The insights I gained from this changed everything for me, and underpins all the work I do with groups and individuals.
Seven Things that can really Help
1. Understanding the nature of Thought and the Human Experience
In a nutshell, the two most important things to see for yourself are firstly, that your mind only works one way – inside out, rather than outside-in. We are not directly experiencing life ‘out there’, our circumstances or life events. We are only ever experiencing thought about those things. Consciousness then brings that thinking to life, and we experience it in our mind and body. And it looks, sounds and feels 100% true — this is our reality.
What are the Three Principles?
Thought: We think!
The inherent and invisible energy which crafts your unique perceptions and moment-to-moment experience of life
Consciousness: We are aware!
The force that illuminates and brings to life whatever you are thinking. Our level of awareness at any moment determines the quality of our experience. The higher our level of consciousness, the clearer the view.
Life Energy or Universal Mind: We are alive!
There is an ever-present energy and intelligence behind life. It is, in essence, the life force. It’s what makes acorns grow into oak trees. It’s what makes the cut on your finger heal.
We don’t have to ‘manage’ or control our thinking. We only have to see it as thought, rather than truth. To see through the often illusory nature of the energy of thought passing through us, moment to moment. It is a game-changer when we realise, insightfully, that our thinking is not WHO we are, it is not necessarily TRUE, and it’s transient.
We can be in total climate despair one day (or one moment of one day), and then – as our thinking shifts, we can feel not so bad, OK, hopeful, resilient and calm. And then depressed or anxious again. Or we can temporarily forget about it entirely sometimes as we focus on other things.
The climate and ecological crisis hasn’t changed. Only our experience of it has changed. Knowing this, and understanding that we have the capacity at any time for fresh thoughts or insights, is extremely valuable.
2. Let go of your need for Certainty and Control
What we bring to a situation in terms of our narrative about it makes all the difference. Maybe we need to learn to let go of our need for certainty, control and being attached to a specific outcome.
In my last blog “What’s the Story you’re Holding about Climate Change?”, I listed 21 narratives that I’ve been hearing lately. You can read that blog here:
I’m saying hold multiple narratives – not for the hopium they provide, but rather because nobody knows. It seems wise, to me, to stay open and aware of all possibilities.
Humans are very poor at predicting the future.
This is NOT about any form of denial of the facts, or deciding that we have to maintain our well-being by sticking our fingers in our ears, or looking away. Neither is it a spiritual by-pass.
We can engage with the crisis with curiosity, courage and compassion without needing to wed ourselves to a particular ending of this book we are all writing.
3. Differentiate between What Is and What Might Be
Leading on from the last point, I believe it’s important that we acknowledge what is actually happening to our world. Yes, it’s bad. Really bad.
But this is different from constructing terrifying pictures and stories of what might happen in the future. Because we feel what we think about – it is this category that creates most of the psychological distress.
I’m not saying you should instead construct wonderful, positive “tra-la-la” scenarios about the future either (although you would probably temporarily feel better if you did!)
I’m saying you don’t have to make the scenarios so significant – they’re not coming from ‘out there’, they’re coming from inside your head.
And if you do feel bad sometimes, this is very normal and human…
4. You don’t have to be afraid of your Feelings
You can feel your feelings without having to make another story about what they mean.
As Joanna Macy says “They’re just feelings!”
We have created a culture where we are almost phobic about feelings, and will do almost anything to avoid feeling them. Hence the substantial amounts of ‘numbing’ strategies used.
You can lean into the grief when it comes. I’ve found for myself that there really is something incredible there: Love. Courage. Letting go of your old stories.
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, it’s human to feel our feelings. But these too are transient. And they’re not telling you anything about yourself, or the world out there. All they are telling you about is your thinking in the moment.
“If we only learned not to be afraid of our feelings, that alone would change the world” Sydney Banks
5. Connect, Connect, Connect
Don’t go through this alone.
I would argue, as many others have, that the main reason we got here is because of disconnection. Disconnection from our deeper selves, from each other, from nature.
Those of us who have woken up to our predicament can feel like we’re living in two worlds.
Seek community and connection. Many studies have shown that this is the best thing we can do for our mental health.
Conversation with others can be deeply nourishing. Being fully heard, and fully seen, getting some perspective, and just being with others is beautiful at any time – and now we need this more than ever.
Here are four specific ideas:
• The Positive Deep Adaptation community hosts regular 90 minute “Deep Listening” Zoom Calls. Keep an eye on the Facebook Group for these events, and register to join them. Everybody I know who has participated in these finds them profound and valuable.
• Find other people who live near you who are awake and engaged with this, and set up meetings for coffee or conversation. The Positive Deep Adaptation UK Facebook Group allows you to enter your postcode on to a nationwide Googlemap.
• Participate in a workshop or retreat that allows you to come together in a group and share what’s going on for you. I run a 4-day retreat called “The Edge” which weaves together the three strands of Deep Adaptation, Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects, and the Three Principles. Find out more here: https://www.heartofthriving.com/event/the-edge-2/
• Join an XR group. It is often said about XR that “we came because of outrage, we stayed because of the love”
6. Navigate from Presence or ‘Home’
The Three Principles points us to a deep knowing that we all have innate psychological resilience and well-being at our core. It is hard-wired into us – the factory-setting, if you like!
Nobody is broken.
The only thing that gets in the way of it is thinking. Or rather, thought believed. Thought that doesn’t look like thought – it looks like truth or reality.
I call this knowing ‘Home’. I’ve asked thousands of people to describe this formless place, and they all say very similar things: It feels like presence, clarity, love, profound peace, stillness, creativity, gratitude and aliveness. There’s almost a hum to it. And from this place, we can become a channel for wisdom. Not just personal wisdom – universal wisdom.
7. Listen to your ‘Nudges’
I’ve noticed, as have others, that guidance from wisdom feels different from our everyday mental chatter. For me, it has a quality of lightness, and rightness. An absence of tension or tightness. There is very little ‘thinking’ about these nudges – they’re not based on a list of pros and cons, or rational analysis.
The wisdom nudge may not be easy, and be fraught with challenges along the way. But they seem to come along with a deep peace of mind, well-being and calm.
Perhaps we all have a different path? Whether it’s activism, regeneration, community-building, politics, influencing our company or organisation, adaptation, supporting others from a psycho-spiritual perspective or more.
When faced with a clear and present danger, humans are remarkably good at facing into it. This in no way guarantees getting the outcome you hope for, of course.
But it’s a very different place than rushing around desperately taking action – any action – because your inner voice is screaming like a banshee at you.
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.
It is my hope that the seven things highlighted here might help you to navigate from more clarity, wisdom and well-being, as we face into whatever the future holds.
Kimberley Hare is a writer, coach, therapist, psychologist, coach, facilitator, blogger, spiritual teacher and community builder. She has led a successful business for 35 years, and is the author of three books about learning, the brain, and the spiritual truth behind Life. Since August 2019 she does all her work from dana, or the gift economy. Find out more at www.heartofthriving.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org