Steps on the Pathway of Sorrow.

When we started thinking about our Westacre renovation project, I saw it as an opportunity to educate and inspire people. I assumed that we would have plenty of time to get our story out there and motivate people to adopt some of our solutions.

Then, last week, I read an article by Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt in the New Statesman. It shook me. Although I have known for a while that we are running out of time, Klein's writing brought it home to me that we probably already have.

It is too late to gradually change our society and make it sustainable. Big shocks to the way we live are now unavoidable. The only thing that can stop the industrial growth society is revolution.

The thought saddened me for days and made me lose sleep. I found myself mourning the loss of the idea that we would have the time to make gentle changes. I felt angry at the people in power who have known about the facts of climate change and peak oil for about as long as I have been alive and buried their heads in the sand. I felt frustrated with our consumer society where we let ourselves be lulled asleep by material possessions and celebrity gossip. I felt overwhelmed with the enormity of it all.

We all get these feelings. We live our lives, get on with our business, and then suddenly, out of the blue, an item in the news or a conversation with a friend reminds us of the profound brokenness of our world. And it touches us, it wounds our souls.

So what can you do with these feelings? In our society any negative feelings tend to be denied and hidden. We like to pretend that we are all constantly happy and upbeat. When personal tragedy hits, we're told to get over it and move on, preferably without inconveniencing anyone with our sorrow.

When our sadness goes beyond our personal lives, and touches the world to which we all belong, the feeling is barely acknowledged as real. The only accepted response is to deny them and medicate them away with too much chocolate, too much television, or too much alcohol.

Medicating our sadness, however, is one way to dilute the power we all have to creatively engage with our world and do what we can to make it better, to heal the damage we have done. Beneath our sorrow lies great power, if we dare to walk through the dark feelings.


Into the dark cave. Photo by Tom Dowd

My instinctive way of dealing with such feelings, beyond talking to like-minded friends and lightening the burden by sharing it, is to take them to my Goddess in prayer and ritual.

At Samhain, I simply sat in meditation, lit an candle, and called on my Lady. She encouraged me to sit with the feelings, to allow them to flow through me without censure or attempt to make it feel better. It was a hard task.

The feelings took me into darkness, a sense of hopelessness for our world. It felt heavy and oppressive, my candle barely adding light to the gloom. But I stayed.

And as I sat, slowly but surely, beneath the gloom a tiny light began to shine. Hopelessness was transformed into a sense of urgency. I knew that there was only one choice: I need to do what I am already doing, but with a renewed focus.

In light of the disaster that is upon us – unseen environmental and economic turmoil because we have failed to avert the consequences of our actions – would you please help me?

Help me build this resource for people facing the reality of our wounded world. Add your own practices, and things you have found on web sites or in books. Put them in the comments below, properly credited. Together we can make a wonderful collection of practices that will support us in living fully, through the coming storm and beyond.

The following is a practice that will help you connect to your true feelings about environmental and social issues, and to see them from many perspectives. You can do this practice in a group as described, or as a writing exercise on your own. If you are writing, give yourself plenty of time. This practice is described in Wild Earth, Wild Soul, a Manual for an Ecstatic Culture by Bill Pfeiffer.

Voices of the Earth

Purpose: To allow people to verbalize their ecological concerns in an intimate, safe setting and embody those concerns in a creative way

Duration: 30 minutes

This exercise brings abstract information into the heart and expands one’s sense of self. It enables people to better t rust their “gut” and experience a variety of perspectives in a short period of time.

Have people pair off if they have not done so already. Partners sit face to face with enough distance between pairs so they won’t distract each other during the process. Have each pair choose who will go first, and explain that this person will be the “speaker” responding to a series of prompts spoken by the facilitator. The other person will listen with full, silent attention to what is being said. This is not a conversation! Then the partners will trade roles.

Ask everyone to take a minute to reflect on an ecological area of personal concern and the feelings that it evokes.

Offer prompts similar to the following and, after each, remain quiet while the speakers respond. Let them know they’ll have about four minutes for each prompt, but give a little more time to the first one. Toward the end of each segment, ask the speakers to “bring your sharing to a close.”

  1. Passionately describe an ecological problem. This is an opportunity to let go of your inner censor. Experience yourself speaking; feel what you are saying.
  2. Become the voice of a plant, an animal, or a part of Earth that is affected by this problem. Really identify with this being. Tell your partner what you feel like as this being, describing both your inner and outer experience. If you can, try speaking in the first person (using “I”). For example, you might say: “I am a raccoon. I come out at night. I need to cross a road to find food, and I’m scared because big metal boulders with bright lights move very quickly and have killed members of my family.”
  3. Speak in the voice of someone you think is the cause of an environmental problem. For instance, become a corporate executive for a large oil company, or a logger, or a nuclear plant worker. Again speaking in the first person, explain who you are and what you do, feeling that you are completely in the right. Use your flexible intelligence to “become” that person. Really get into it.

Have the partners switch roles, and repeat the series of prompts for the new speakers.

Other resources

I'll tell you when I find some. Please let me know of anything you find. I'd love to expand this section.