As I walk among the trees adorned in golden morning shadows, much of the ground is still hidden from sight. The sky has caught the first threads of sun and is transforming the darkness into an array of pinks and reds that I do not know how to name. The air is crisp and jacket-worthy, but not so cold as to prevent lingering. I feel drawn to stay in this world, removed from harsh and troubling headlines of the morning news.
These are not easy times. We live within such great beauty and such great heartbreak for individuals and communities around the world, human and more than human.
It has been a year of shattering world records, ones that are dangerous to break. July exceeded previous measurements of global warmth, and then August followed suit only to be outdone by September which zoomed past the previous global heat record by the largest monthly margin ever observed.(1) Off-the-charts high temperatures were recorded in the winter in South America and in summer in the Arctic. Add raging fires across the boreal forests of Canada, melting ice in Greenland, and deep drought in the Amazon. We could go on but suffice it to say that all of this is beyond what many scientists had predicted. We hear their struggle in the terms they use: unprecedented, Code Red, now or never, and absolutely gobsmackingly bananas.(2) Humans, plants, animals – entire species and ecosystems – are at risk amid what has been termed the sixth mass extinction. Unprecedented indeed.
Surely unprecedented times call for unprecedented action. Where do we begin? Perhaps our most basic, generous, and radical response is to honor and bear witness to loss. It’s tempting to look away, deny, or minimize our grief especially if we don’t have connections to others with whom we can share our feelings.
Do not doubt that the grief we feel for losses of the more-than-human world is real. Psychologists note an increasing trend of eco-grief; it is not considered a disorder but a natural response to the losses we are experiencing. Our grief reminds us that we are not separate from the Earth. We share a lineage and a home. We share ecosystems and a common desire for life and future generations. It’s natural that we should grieve with and for the beings of this world – human and beyond.
It’s not easy to allow our hearts to break open to the pain of the world, especially if we have few rituals for shared loss and lament. We may need to create simple rituals for losses we experience. Perhaps we feel invited to write about our loss, to build a cairn of small stones in honor of what we grieve, to plant a native bush or tree as a memorial, or to hold a wake for what has been lost in our community. To be fully alive is to experience joy and grief woven throughout the fabric of our lives. In this way, we deepen our capacity for love.
Shortly after 9/11, I heard author Marianne Williamson speak at the Washington National Cathedral. Although I did not record her exact words, I recall her saying something like this: People ask if love is stronger than hate. It is, but you have to offer it in equal measure. Terrorists get up every morning with a single-minded dedication to terror. We must get up every morning single-mindedly dedicated to love.
How might such unprecedented love manifest? Perhaps with unprecedented openness to the living world around us. Walking slowing. Pausing often. Quieting our busy minds. Softly gazing at what is, just as it is.
Receiving the gifts of awe and wonder that grace us in a dazzling sunrise, the subtle and brilliant changes in maple and oak, or the bees gathering the last pollen from the golden centers of starry-purple, autumn asters. Allowing ourselves to dissolve into the seeing until there is no other.
Perhaps we might practice unprecedented listening to the living world. Pausing our actions that come solely from “human knowing.” Growing in awareness of and appreciation for the wisdom of the plants and animals in our garden or in a nearby woods or stream. Remembering that these relatives have been evolving, adapting, and learning for far longer than we members of the family tree. Honing all our senses so that we might receive the knowledge they offer us and the world.
Perhaps love looks like unprecedented gratitude and reciprocity for the living world. Reflecting regularly on the incredible gifts of air, water, food, shelter, and beauty that nourish and sustain us – and allowing gratitude to arise as a natural response to these gifts of life. Giving back to those who give us so much in the form of a heartfelt bow, a prayer, and a vow to protect.
Opening, listening, being grateful and responding may sound like simple acts. Perhaps they seem too simple given the unprecedented challenges we are facing. They are a beginning, an opening to unprecedented love and connection to the world around us. These practices in communion with the living world enable us to build reserves of love and compassion, strengthening our desire and courage to bear witness to and mourn the losses. As we engage more fully with the living world, a deeper understanding of what is ours to do emerges. Writer and wisdom leader Joanna Macy reminds us: “You don't need to do everything. Do what calls your heart; effective action comes from love. It is unstoppable, and it is enough.”(3)
Unprecedented times. Fortunately, the capacity for unprecedented response is within us. It is ours to cultivate as we arise each morning with single-minded dedication to love this world.
1 “Earth Breaks September Heat Record by Unprecedented Margin - The Washington Post,” accessed October 18, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2023/10/03/september-global-temperature-record-climate/.
2 Damian Carrington, “‘Gobsmackingly Bananas’: Scientists Stunned by Planet’s Record September Heat | Climate Crisis | The Guardian," accessed October 22, 2023,
3 "Joanna Macy Quotes."; Accessed October 22, 2023, https://www.quoteslyfe.com/quote/You-don-t-need-to-do-