Perhaps 2023 will be remembered as the year when climate scientists pulled out a host of superlatives to describe the hottest period in recorded human history. Climatologists around the globe wrote of blistering surface temperatures, torrid ocean conditions, nightmare hurricanes, unprecedented ice melts, unprecedented water in the atmosphere, overall anomalies, historic heat, and widespread destruction. Those terms were taken from just three articles in the Washington Post over one month’s time.
It is, as one scientist posted, absolutely gobsmackingly bananas. Reading about it—and living it—sometimes feels like more than we can bear. It is understandable that we might long to turn away from this haunting, existential threat that is bearing down on us and our kin, human and beyond, now and for the foreseeable future.
Climate chaos is not the only major threat to life as we know it. Biodiversity loss looms at least as large as climate change, and the two issues are intertwined and reinforcing.
Sadly, so many examples abound. Nearly half of the songbirds in North America have been lost over the last 50 years. Millions of acres of trees have been cut from the boreal forest of the north and replanted with monocultures, leaving this life-giving forest ever more susceptible to invading insects and raging wildfires.
Native prairies with deep-rooted grasses that stabilized the soil, sequestered carbon, prevented erosion and provided homes for wildlife are being plowed for large-scale agriculture and urban expansion. Selected from hundreds of thousands of examples, these are only a few of the ways we have changed life on Earth forever.
Remaining grounded and connected is especially difficult in these times. Ecogrief is a real and understandable response to seeing the destruction of ecosystems and species around us. Most of us have experienced times of sorrow, anxiety or despair as we’ve witnessed the erosion of the world’s well-being.
Psychologists point out that ecogrief isn’t a condition to be cured; it arises from a clear-eyed awareness and acknowledgment of what we are seeing on Earth today. This grief is not limited to a single instance. As we continue to observe the changes wrought by climate chaos and biodiversity loss, waves of grief will almost assuredly wash over us time and time again.
Climate chaos threatens all that we hold dear; to avoid grief is impossible. Still, grief, sadness or anger are not the only emotions available to us. As with an ecotone where two ecosystems meet—forest fades to prairie, marsh runs to sea, mountains surrender to valleys—threats and possibilities co-mingle.
Ecotones are places of danger and of opportunity, fragile and life-giving. There is beauty even in the loss; there is beauty even within the loss. Wonder and delight continue to abound. As Robin Wall Kimmerer has written, “Even a wounded Earth is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy.”
4 Grounding Practices
There are no magic solutions for maintaining resiliency in edge times such as these. Yet, there are practices that can help to ground and sustain us. They enable us to bear witness to what is happening and remain open to compassion and even joy.
These ancient practices have been handed down to us through the ages by mystics and wise ones who also lived in times that challenged the world as they knew it. They are simple practices that deepen with repetition.
Cultivate a grateful heart
You might begin simply: Start and end each day by saying thank you for all that you have received. Keep a gratitude journal. When you catch yourself complaining, balance each negative thought with a positive one.
Arguably, a more challenging practice is to change your perception. Instead of expecting (or demanding, as some might) a share of natural resources or ecosystem services, remind yourself that you are receiving gifts from the living world. Gifts are intended to be honoured, appreciated, acknowledged and reciprocated. Cultivating practices to honour the gifts of Earth can weave a fuller kinship with her for the well-being of all beings.
Pause to relish awe and wonder
When we witness difficult losses, our hearts may break open. The living world is full of wonders that can help soothe our aching hearts. Awe has been shown to improve physical and mental health, reduce stress, quiet our inner critic, and offer reference points that are broader than ourselves and our egos.
Practice being an observer of the sunrise each day, watch the sunset fading into a world of stars, study a tiny community of moss, and breathe in the scent of rosemary or pine. Open to the majesty of sea, sky and mountains or the small miracles of butterflies and seeds.
You need not go far afield to experience awe, wonder and delight. Cut open a head of cabbage or cauliflower, look deeply into a single flower, taste a homegrown tomato, step out on your balcony to hear a morning birdsong. Slow your pace. Savour what you see, smell, touch, hear and taste.
Consciously tune your senses
Touching, smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing. Sit in your backyard, or go to a park, a botanical garden or an arboretum. Focus on one sense at a time, insofar as that’s possible. For example, close your eyes and direct your attention to your hearing.
Stay with a single sense for five to 10 minutes if you can. Practice reconnecting to the living world through your senses instead of your thoughts. Allow words to drop away, gently reminding your busy mind that it’s OK to let each thought float away.
For most of human existence, our ancestors related to the living world around them through their senses. Can we learn again to hear the stars singing? Smell the oncoming storm? Our senses offer a doorway to deep communion that helps keep us grounded even in times of great challenge.
Find like-hearted companions for the journey
Reject the idea that you should be self-sufficient; it was never a worthy goal. We are built for relationships: fully intertwined with all beings, breathing the same air, drinking water from beyond time, all born of stardust. We need others who can help us reclaim the light we carry.
In the Celtic tradition, an anam cara (“soul friend”) was a trustworthy one with whom you could share your deepest thoughts and feelings. A soul friend could be a single individual, a community, a particular location, or another living being such as a tree or a special animal. Cultivating such soul friendships requires a commitment to spacious and deep listening—putting aside your ego’s needs to hear the heart of another. To share our burdens in edge times makes the journey possible.
Trust the Wisdom of Earth
Take the long view. We live among kin who can trace their lineage back hundreds of millions of years or more. They have amassed deep knowledge of change and resiliency. Let them be a metaphor for your life. See yourself in their journey, invite them to teach you and trust that they are already finding a way. So much is beyond our knowing. The story is still being written.
Listen for the dream of Earth. Value mutual thriving. Discern what role you’re invited to play in this ongoing creation. Know that the seeds you plant may not bear fruit in your lifetime. In these edge times, our generation may be asked to walk open-heartedly on a soul path toward an unknown future, leaving a faint trail for those who come after us. The best of who we are becoming may manifest in times far beyond our own.
As we deepen in these practices, our hearts may be soothed by Earth’s beauty, wisdom and generosity. Our broken bits may be gently rearranged to allow greater capacity for bearing witness to what is. From that tender place, we may reweave connections of soul and Earth and find the resilience and courage to work for a world of healing, wholeness and mutual thriving.
This post was originally written by Leah Rampy for The Mindful Word.