As the results of climate destabilization become more evident, more people are experiencing climate anxiety, ecogrief, and similar distress. Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, record-shattering heatwaves, and droughts are bringing the truth of the climate emergency to headlines around the world. Habitats and cultures are being disrupted or extinguished. Suffering abounds.
And yet, these headlines only rarely mention the connection to climate. Every day, most people in the global north see only business-as-usual. Worse, 92% of people in the US aren’t “activated”; the majority in the world’s wealthier countries continue to behave as if nothing will change, or nothing needs to change. Small wonder that those of us who are paying attention have a hard time dealing with the emotions that arise from this escalating climate emergency.
Novasutras was founded in part to help ecoactivists and people who care about the Earth to cope with these feelings. Our practices and events serve to nurture and uplift one another during these challenging times.
“The first and most important thing to recognize is that you’re not alone,” says Merrill. It’s important to acknowledge grief about climate change with others, she explains, while realizing that there are also many reasons for gratitude and joy.“‘Climate Grief’ and Doomsday Support Groups” by Andrew Steingrube, Good Times Santa Cruz Dec 2019
What do we mean by climate anxiety and ecogrief?
Terms like these are attempting to encapsulate the many different emotions that may arise as we recognize the challenges and loss associated with The Great Unraveling.
Climate change and environmental destruction threatens us with powerful feelings – loss, grief, guilt, anxiety, shame, despair. These are difficult to bear and can mobilise defence mechanisms and coping strategies, which can undermine our capacity to get to grips with the issue.Climate Psychology Alliance
We can't ignore our pain when the kinship of agaya and ubuntu has been violated. Feelings of anger may rise up, as we see how choices made thousands of miles away can harm beings and places that we love. We may experience solastalgia: philosopher Glenn Albrecht's term attempting to capture "the homesickness you have when you are still at home" and realize that environmental disruptions mean that place will never again in your lifetime be as whole and healthy as it once was. These powerful feelings are an expression of the love we have for the living world.
When climate anxiety arises, we can take a moment to pause and recognize it as a response to our caring about the earth and the future of the species on it.Linda Yaron Weston, American Association of Colleges & Universities Magazine, Summer 2022
In the Work That Reconnects, we come to recognize that our rage is an expression of our passion for justice, that our fear is what allows us to act with courage and wisdom, that our grief illuminates the depth of our love, and that our despair opens space for something new to emerge.
Beloved teacher what do we most need to do to save the world?Students
What we most need to do is to hear within ourselves the sound of the Earth crying.Thich Nhat Hanh
It is only by honoring our pain for the world today that we can begin to see how our actions can bring the changes that Earth and future generations deserve.
How widespread are these experiences?
The American Climate Perspectives Survey 2022 found that over half of Americans have negative emotional responses to climate change. About 1 in 4 survey respondents report intense feelings, being very anxious (26%), very fearful (24%), and/or very angry (24%). A 2021 global survey in the journal Nature found that the rates of feeling very or extremely worried about climate was even higher in young people, at around 60% of respondents.
There’s no question why young people feel angry — they stand to inherit a world afflicted by climate change and face the impacts for more years of their life should the trajectory of inaction persist.American Climate Perspectives Survey 2022
What should I do if I'm experiencing climate anxiety, ecogrief, or similar feelings?
If you are in serious crisis, you should seek professional help immediately. Insight Timer provides this list of emergency hotlines all around the world.
Are your feelings of climate grief, ecoanxiety, or related emotions are very strong and persistent? Do they severely impair your ability to live your life day-to-day? You may choose to seek a climate-aware professional therapist who can help you. Check with one of the organizations listed here to find one.
But for many of us, the experience of these feelings can or must be managed without consulting a professional. A variety of wellness practices, alone or in combination, can help us to honor the pain we feel for the world's losses and build resilience.
The American Psychological Association offers several recommendations for dealing with climate anxiety and depression. For instance, you can develop self-regulation and active coping skills. Maintaining practices that help you find meaning and purpose helps, as well. We also cope better when we strengthen bonds of community, culture, place and family.
Developing self-regulation and active coping skills
In Novasutras, we provide opportunities to learn and practice these skills:
We offer various group meditation events, and produce recordings of guided meditations on agaya and ubuntu that are freely available through various channels. Dr. Michelle Merrill now also offers individual instruction and guided meditation sessions online or by phone. Learn more...
This forest immersion practice has been studied for decades, and shown to hold extensive and diverse benefits for physical and mental well-being. We provide some basic instruction here. Those in the Santa Cruz area can join us for in-person shinrin-yoku gatherings (RSVP for Oct 14th now!). Learn more...
These learning practices, ceremonies, and meditations were designed by Joanna Macy and colleagues to help us increase our resilience and effectiveness to defend and restore the living world. Michelle is a trained facilitator, offering Reconnection Rituals and other workshops based in this tradition. Learn more...
This powerful tool for connecting with our inner wisdom can help you get into better relationship with different aspects of yourself. Focusing partnerships also help you develop heart-knowing and deep listening skills. Dr. Kendon Smith is exploring the neurobiology and value of this practice. He has provided some instruction to support you in learning Focusing (session one | session two). Learn more...
Additionally, our allies at The Resilient Activist offer an abundance of tips for building your resilience. They host a Climate Café on the fourth Tuesday of each month. In these sessions, climate aware people can have open, frank conversations about climate anxiety, and learn and practice coping skills. TRA also provides various workshops, such as their new Mindfulness and Resilience Training for Climate Activists. (We list many TRA online offerings on our event calendar.)
Maintaining practices that help you find meaning and purpose
Meditation and shinrin-yoku often help people connect to their own deeper meaning and purpose. But this inner work is not enough. We recommend that people act on their insights. We gain resilience by engaging in some deeply dedicated activism.
Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Novasutras' projects highlight ways to work for transformative change. These include things like our letter-writing campaign in support of tribal efforts to protect sacred land at Juristac. We help people connect with organizations working to preserve equatorial rainforests. Our Santa Cruz chapter supports local climate justice actions.
Strengthening the bonds of community, culture, place and family
Even in the face of climate disruption, we find comfort and joy by connecting with others. Novasutras' emphasis on growing trusted community is a way to improve personal and social resilience. Group meditations and Octal Celebrations are a couple of our offerings to grow community bonds. We also host online conversations and workshops to help us connect and share ideas. Our Circle of Agaya & Ubuntu gathers regularly to celebrate and co-create the future of Novasutras.
Novasutras' Facebook group and Discord server can be spaces to build online community for now. The Deep Transformation Network and The Resilient Activist both offer more exclusive online social spaces for connection. With financial and technical support, Novasutras might venture into better online community options like these.
Local community and place-based connections through Novasutras chapters
We’re happy to help people set up Novasutras chapters anywhere around the world! Contact us with your ideas, questions, and concerns.
How do climate anxiety or ecogrief show up for you? What helps you cope with these feelings? Which things do you want to try next? What do you want to learn more about?
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