I know I am not alone in feeling immense grief for the suffering taking place all over the planet with wars, climate catastrophes, gun violence and more. Not just for humans, but also non-human others and all the creations on this amazing planet. So this week I want to explore that grief and how to be with it instead, and how to do so not in isolation, but with others.
I want to start by introducing you to Joanna Macy, an author, scholar, and teacher of Buddhism, systems thinking, and deep ecology. Over the course of decades, she’s been an example of an inspiring capacity to be present with grief, suffering, and despair for our times, AND to continue to hold wonder and love in her heart, without bypassing.
She created “The Work that Reconnects,” a body of work for personal and social change for times when we’re overwhelmed by social and ecological crises. It helps us transform our despair and apathy into a more collaborative action. I feel like we can use a lot of this right now, especially as we look to move through these difficult times with others, and not alone.
Personally, I’ve witnessed a lot of suffering. I’ve been present with mothers who gave birth to a stillborn child; people grieving the death of a loved one who died in an accident right in front of them; animals who different immensely and unnecessarily due to human influence; I’ve held space for the stories of terrific trauma experienced by my clients.
I’m sure you have, too. I see you holding this in your heart. We’ve seen so much. Experienced so much. Felt so much.
It often feels like too much.
And now we find ourselves living within an “industrial growth society,” having to do what we have to, to sustain ourselves. To survive. AND we’re expected to do this surviving while we’re also aware of what’s happening to the planet and what it means to everything on the planet… and how it somehow manages to keep getting worse.
One thing that Joanna often says is, “The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.”
Will we get overwhelmed? Sure. Sometimes the price of admission into being that present with the world is that our heart breaks.
AND even in the face of the overwhelming crises of these times, our despair can transform into clarity of vision, and then into constructive, collaborative action. Not to “save the world” (that can overwhelm and lead to inaction), but rather to do what we can with others.
Because we choose to look. We choose to see and feel. We choose to open ourselves up to grief.
In modern industrialized society, we’re trained away from an inherent knowing of our interconnectedness and that another’s suffering is our own, because that’s what we have to do to engage in the behaviors and mindsets that are so destructive in that system. We’re taught we’re not interconnected and that we must watch out for ourselves because no one else will. We’re on our own.
I have definitely been fear-driven into this belief myself.
While much of the suffering we witness can be overwhelming, in reality, sharing it – openly grieving – can be like oxygen for members of our communities who aren’t as intimate with the truth. They might not know its depth until they witness others in their despair. This grief breathes life back into us when we feel alone, isolated, and empty.
Now some of the sufferings we witness are part of the natural tragedies that happen in life, but other types of suffering are preventable, and I think we grieve those more.
One example is human-caused climate disruption, which has already reached the point of irreversible damage, right? When I went to visit Alaska in 2000, I could step onto a glacier from the parking lot. Now, I have to take a boat or wait for the lake to freeze so we can bike miles to see the toe of that glacier, which you can’t even see from the road anymore.
There are communities that have been displaced from the land they’ve inhabited for generations with sea rise. Species going extinct. Wars being fought for many reasons, but also over natural resources and the power and wealth they bring.
But here’s an important thing to practice in all of this: when we think of all the things we’re losing, we also need to remember their beauty.
Wonder and sadness. Together
We bear witness to the awe, wonder, beauty… and also to how quickly those moments and possibilities are being lost.
This is where the Buddha’s teachings on interdependence and dependent co-arising come in very potently. We need each other. And even deeper than that, we are inseparable from one other, from Earth, and from All That Is.
No matter how difficult life on our beautiful planet becomes, we’ll only get through these times by being there for one another. By being vulnerable enough to open up to another and share our grief, to weep openly, to let others see our despair, and for us to express it AND hold space for another to do the same.
Holding each other’s hands, bearing witness together. Not grieving alone.
We need one another, and it’s not weak or desperate or needy. It’s HUMAN. We’re not meant to live in isolation, even though sometimes I feel like I want to just run in the woods and hide.
We can hold grief and love/wonder/awe together. In fact, we must. If we don’t – and focus on just one aspect – we are ignoring the wholeness of the human experience, all of which is real. And all of which we can be present to.
Our grief is sacred, important, oxygen for those of us that feel numbed out and separate from truth.
We are meant to do this with others, together. Let’s walk each other home.
You will learn:
// Why we must open ourselves up to grief for the world around us
// How to find beauty in what causes us to grieve
// The importance of interconnectedness and realizing we are not alone
// Ways we can reconnect with others in a deeper way + cultivate resilience
// The Work That Reconnects by Joanna Macy
// Episode 174: Decolonize Your Mind (a glimpse into my realization that I gave into the fear story of industrial growth society)
// OK my friends, we are coming to a close in 2023. If you want a safe and supportive place to do this deeper work, to open to truth and most importantly to the truth of your own soul, come join me in the Adventure Mastermind.
It’s a small group of self-identified women (you’ll probably never see a group this small in the coaching world and certainly not in altered states work these days), and we have an absolutely magical curated experience for you to go deep. Head on over to AdventureMastermind.com and apply now – we’ve got some great bonuses too!
// Want something more self-paced with access to weekly group support and getting coached by yours truly? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Plus, we have entire months devoted to wisdom and compassion. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there!
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.