Lat night, I re-watched “Children of Men” where the depiction of a dystopian future of collapsed cities and ecosystems, garbage clogging the streets and streams, terrorism, armed police and the incarceration, enslaving and torturing of displaced peoples (refugees) seem all too close and almost documentary-like in 2019.
This morning, I woke up to the news that one of the dedicated admins of the Positive Deep Adaptation group decided to focus on her family and leave her admin status after reading about the unprecedent ice and permafrost melting in both the Arctic and Greenland…
None of this is new to me: I’ve known about these and similar crises from a very young age, in some cases firsthand, and since 2010, I’ve been more intentionally researching, studying, writing, taking action and facilitating through courses, workshops, groups and blog posts.
I also woke up in my suburban middle-class townhouse and noticed that I can still turn on the tap and get fresh, drinkable water, the light switch still works, I still have Internet and if I run out of anything, it only takes a few block’s walking or a bus ride to find a store where to buy it. I still have my jobs, access to health and emergency services and so many other magical things that didn’t exist 50, 100 or 200 years ago and which are becoming increasingly scarce, expensive or plainly nonexistent for many peoples all around the globe.
Reading through the questions and posts from diverse peoples around the world as a response to the latest IPCC report, the UN report and the issue of the Deep Adaptation paper; reading the news and knowing all what I think I know, suddenly converged into a well-known feeling of panic and being overwhelmed: the things we suspect may happen as a result of the convergence of ecological and social crises may be closer than we think: even putting all the other factors aside, what does it mean the sudden and early melting of the permafrost? For those who don’t know, it means that both CO2 and methane are freed up in tons in a matter of weeks, days or even hours. All these greenhouse gases then go up to the atmosphere and accelerate the greenhouse effect, with the accompanying heating which we already know causes havoc in the different climate systems: more rare and stronger storms, wildfires, heatwaves, floods and the subsequent impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, ecosystems, food production, water quality and availability, etc.
I could choose to become super busy: if I allow myself to fall into this, I may get suck into paralysis, this will affect all the god things I’m already doing, y jobs, my volunteer work, my own measures for “deep adaptation”, whatever that means in light of an uncertain future.
I could also choose to withdraw: stop reading these reports, get out of the discussion forums, unplug partially or completely and focus on what’s in front of me. This may get my sanity back for a while and will help me with self care.
Or I could choose to count and share my blessings and the great choices I’ve made: living a simpler life, avoiding flying and not driving, studying and practicing permaculture, reconnecting to nature, and so on and on…this may me feel good and smart and if lucky, may inspire others.
But becoming busy, counting my choices or withdrawing won’t make this go away: it will eat me up from inside, and the things accelerating collapse out there will continue happening whether I live by my values, choose to hide away in the woods and take actions or not. Being busy, withdrawing and showing off are forms of denial, forms of escape, forms of bargaining with grief: “maybe if I do this, things will change and I’ll be OK, I’ll be safe”. They are also expressions of privilege: but they are valid mechanisms we all posses to deal with what is too big and powerful. They also have their own benefits.
It is scary: if I really stop and think, if I am honest with myself, it is horribly scary: even if I manage to keep the fort till the end and live in one of the latest privileged places in the world where we still have access to water, power, food, where life still resembles “normal”, I know of others that are not faring that well and their number is growing: from peoples in other areas of the world to species of plants, animals and insects who are already being displaced and their habitats becoming inhabitable: how long would it take for these displaced peoples to reach this and other “safe” regions of the world and how would these regions respond? How fair is that they are to pay for something they didn’t create? How long for the upcoming food, water and energy crises to reach all of us? 20-30 years, 10? 5?
Digging into my own emotions, I find that there is a reason for me to feel I should “keep the fort” and don’t allow myself to melt away by panic and despair: if I melt, I will have to say no to the many commitments I have: not only the people and systems that depend on my work will suffer, my family will suffer as well: the bills will still need to be paid, someone has to cook, clean, show some sanity when others start crashing around…
Still, I have a choice: I could do it, I could allow a day, a week, even month to just put all the rest on hold (yes, it will be uncomfortable for many, maybe even really problematic, even for myself, but I doubt anyone will starve or die)…maybe something else comes from being paralyzed by fear and pain, a more grounded me, a new commitment to engage myself even deeper, maybe I could even influence others (although not sure whether my surrendering to these emotions would not bring blame, shame and a lot of emotional blackmail on me for doing this).
Or I could continue the charade of feeling good and safe because all the choices I’ve made, the skills I learned, the things I changed: this may keep me and others safe and good for a while.
These are the moments when everything we learned is put to test: ecopsychology taught me to observe Nature and myself as part of it. Nature collapses all the times, either by cycles (fall, winter, tides, monsoon seasons) or by responding and correcting imbalances or feeding needs (“natural disasters”, the killing of other species for food, the dying of beings to be composted and eaten by others, illnesses, etc.)…life always emerges on the other side, even if what emerges is different.
What can we learn from that?
Systems thinking has taught me that systems are regulated by certain rules: all systems aim to keep certain characteristics, behaviours and structures, these regulation mechanisms act through negative feedback loops, they are what we call “resilience”; but when a system is overwhelmed and certain feedbacks go “positive” (feeding into themselves and creating imbalances), they have the chance to break certain cycles or change the system completely…how does this shine a light into our “falling apart” into our emotions as a response to what could happen in an uncertain future?
The Work that Reconnects has taught me practices that help me to feel and get in touch with my emotions: it says my emotions of fear, pain, anger, frustration, even despair and hopelessness are the natural outcome of my deep love and caring for the world and a proof that I am connected to all creation. It teaches me to allow the emotions to come through me, express them and eventually move on. It also teaches me that the spiral (cycle) of gratitude, honouring my pain for the world, seeing with ancient/new eyes and choosing to go forth has no end: we don’t just decide what we will do about this and never be back at the deep pain, despair and fear phase…
Finally the concept of Deep Time (part of the Seeing with Ancient/New Eyes) teaches me about perspective and allows me to see it all in a different light: knowing that I most probably am the product of a mysterious and magical evolution that started with the Big Bang (or whatever other idea of the origins of the universe we carry), that both my body and soul/spirit are inseparable from the rest of matter and energy in this universe and that all those and what came before me is somewhat in me, as I and all those and what exist today will be part of whatever exists in the future, that brings me a feeling of calmness, awe and gratitude I can barely explain.
Yet, I cannot shake from my mind/heart that millions of peoples and beings don’t have that choice: they are either too busy with surviving, struggling with already broken systems and scarcity or too detached, busy or plainly unprivileged to know or learn the concepts I mentioned above: they may or may not feel fear, pain, despair, frustration, anger, for some what brings those emotions is not an uncertain future that may or may not happen as we imagine in our privileged lives. For them those emotions are the response to everyday shortages, struggles, oppression, abuse and (in case of other than humans), being pushed to extinction.
Out of respect and solidarity with those who cannot stop what they are doing to feel; solidarity with those who don’t have the luxury of withdrawing and those who don’t have the means to choose and change as I’ve done, I am allowing myself to use all the tools above to navigate my very real and very valid emotions; but I am also emerging on the other side to continue my commitment to lessen their suffering, to denounce and take down the systems, structures and institutions that keep them enslaved, and to be part of the creation of a new dream, even if that new dream never comes to life.