There is another reason for fending off sorrow about the loss of the wild natural places we love to visit and the communities where we live, and this is perhaps the hardest one of all to accept and overcome. Many of us are simply afraid that if we allow ourselves to wade, even for a moment, into the feelings of sadness for the living world that lap at the edge of our consciousness, we will find ourselves pulled so ruthlessly into grief and despair that we will never emerge.
I was recently asked to respond to a short email interview. My response seems like a nice summary of how I’ve spent the last decade and a half of my life, so I thought I would share it here.
There we all share the communal cup of loss and in that place find our deep kinship with one another. That is the alchemy of grief, the great and abiding ecology of the sacred once again showing us what the indigenous soul has always known; we are of the earth.
Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life. Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We are imbued with great creativity, brilliant communication, and extraordinary appreciation of and talent for music and other forms of art. We cry in tenderness when we are touched by love, beauty, or loss. We cry in empathy for others’ pain. Some of us even sacrifice our lives for strangers. There is no other known creature whose spectrum of consciousness is as wide and varied as our own. You likely know well the spectrum of human consciousness within yourself. Perhaps you have had many moments when greed or hatred overtook your mind. But it is likely you have also had many moments when you knew that love was all that ever really mattered. And in your final breaths it is likely to be all that is left of you and all that you will leave behind, a cosmic story whispered only once.As Leonard said, “It is in love that we are made; in love we disappear.”
The 21st century is going to be the first time — ever — that the human species stops increasing, expanding, and growing. The human population is — for the first time in history — projected to finally peak around 2050, for the first time ever, in a hundred thousand years. Let me put all that in perspective, if your response is — “so what?” — I think it is one of the most significant events of all time, and I don’t say that for hyperbole’s sake. So powerful and meaningful that we haven’t even begun to think about it. I think it explains everything from today’s wave of fascism, to climate change — to tomorrow’s urgent, desperate need for better paradigms of everything, from economics to politics to society
Climate Trauma And Recovery: The Healing Path Of Cultural Truth And Reconciliation, By Zhiwa Woodbury
For it is only unacknowledged trauma that prompts us to act out in ways that make the problem worse. If what we have been calling “climate change” is, in fact, an unprecedented form of trauma that is prompting us to act out in such perplexing ways as questioning the validity of facts themselves, then there is tremendous potential for societal and global healing in simply bringing awareness to the nature of our collective wounding. As anyone who has walked a 12-step path will tell us, awareness is a powerful elixir.
Is there more to us than Thanatos? I believe there is. Art, medicine, literature tell me so. A little child’s laugh tells me so. The water against the waves does, too. But I also believe that we’ve been told for so long that there isn’t more to us than Thanatos — that all we are is little walking vessels of greed, rage, spite, and hate — that Thanatos is all we know how to be anymore. Let us, then, begin the difficult, beautiful work of discovering a greater truth about ourselves.
A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing. “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them,” thinker, writer, and teacher Martín Prechtel writes. “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”
The animals know this and now all humans know this as well. Sensing the imminent death of all species, the cellular understanding of our common fate is making us ill. Our nervous and physical systems cannot bear this terrible knowledge. The growing understanding of the reality of the human caused 6th Extinction is resulting in Extinction Illness.
The 21st century must be a time of Eros, if we are to heal this broken, troubled world. Not because I say so. But because we need to heal from the ruinous malaises of the ages of capitalism and technology. The anxiety and fear and isolation and meaninglessness they brought with them. We need to grieve, and grieve deeply, for all that we harmed, hurt, lost, abandoned, and ruined, in order to live again. And that is what is really being tested in this strange, difficult, century. Whether or not we want to live again. The alternative is, as it has always, been, death. The age of Thanatos is coming to an end. But will the age of Eros begin? That, my friends, is the question.