Ecological Grief: The Only Way is Through
I read the news today, oh boy. One million plant and animal species at risk of extinction.
At first I just read the news. It took a week to sit down and feel the news. I don’t want to run around, business as usual. If we are going to find another way, then we need to be humans that feel and act. I want to feel this. Let this be my personal ritual to name the loss and to mourn it, to fear, to feel whatever there is to feel. I begin with the facts and let the mind spin. Then slowly the emotions surface.
I pick up a pastel. This is my mighty sword?! I begin to draw.
I draw a faint smudge of white and pale orange - this is the part of me that does not want to feel, that wants to pretend everything is fine as I walk my dog, teach yoga, raise a child, hang out with my partner and friends, live a good life. My denial.
The new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is extensively researched with 145 authors from 50 countries, summarising 15,000 scientific papers. It outlines the utterly devastating effect humans are having on the entire global ecosystem. It is an “ominous picture...The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” reports IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. (1)
As I draw, I feel the child of me that would have drawn a girl with a triangle for a dress, a smiling sun and bright flowers towering over her.
I read that agriculture continues to expand into pristine ecosystems. For example, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980 to 2000, the largest portion lost to cattle ranching in Latin America (about 42 million hectares). About $100 billion of financial support in OECD countries (2015) is given to agriculture that is potentially harmful to the environment, while approximately 11% of the world population is undernourished. About 821 million people face food insecurity in Asia and Africa.
This is how we feed ourselves?!
60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – up nearly 100% since 1980.
Oh, mother Earth we simply take too much from you.
Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.
We are given life-giving sacred water and we pollute it.
I begin to draw water and it turns into a river of tears.
At least a quarter of the global land area is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous peoples and these areas are generally declining less rapidly than in other lands. Yet the areas of the world likely to experience significant negative effects from global changes are also areas in which large concentrations of Indigenous peoples and many of the world’s poorest communities reside.
The report also states that Indigenous peoples and local communities have vital knowledge, values, practices and rights that need to be valued as these help sustain our ecosystems. The report proposes that we need the full participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities in governance.
May we all support Indigenous peoples around the world in their fight for self- determination as they act to protect this web of life.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz.
We are given this breathtakingly beautiful world and we are destroying it.
The 50 year old me draws a bleeding heart, with full red curves and tears of blood. This is what a healthy heart does, it is squeezed by life itself and blood circulates day in, day out. But my heart is bleeding pain. Anguish circulates through my arteries and veins. It is like the very inside of me is wounded. Warm tears roll down my face. I taste their mineral saltiness and it feels like I am tasting the earth. I draw the earth - and it is soaked in blood. I feel a deep sadness. I feel the part of me that is mourning.
It is not until a week later that I realise what is missing from my drawing: fear. Ah fear, you are the deepest and slipperiest one of them all. The fear is pervasive, like a mist in my cells. I feel the fear every time I come across words that are the red flags of our times. Words like: ‘unprecedented’, ‘accelerating’, ‘unknown’, ‘melting’, ‘rising’. Words like: ‘collapse’, ‘catastrophe’. The word ‘extinction’ with the word ‘human’ in front of it. I feel the fear, like a racing feeling that catches my heart and stops it so that I have to gulp the next breath.
I do not draw fear. Instead I close my eyes and feel into it’s familiar form. The gripped jaw each night when I sleep is here now. What else is here? That old guiding question: what is here, now? My solar plexus grips, butterflies intensify. My kidneys feel lifted and tight, the adrenals whirring, heart beat quickens, chest constricts. There is a feeling that I cannot breathe.
A part of me is terrified to feel my feelings about the destruction of this world because I do not know what to do about it. I acknowledge the part of me that is stuck in a cycle of not feeling and not acting.
But that is a part, not all of me. I pause and feel my feet on the ground. I remind myself: it is enough simply to feel, as feelings will show me the way. I feel the wholeness of me, spacious and bigger than even fear. I look at the green leaf I have drawn above the river of tears and the bleeding heart. The leaf is a symbol of all of life, innately sacred, and I feel my choice to live in honour of sacred life. I remember when I gave birth to my son and I remember excellent advice, useful not only for women giving birth but for all of us who want to give birth to a new world: it really hurts, it is bloody hard work and you can do it!
Imagine if humans across the planet stopped and felt the emotional impact of this global destruction? We would build a different world from that feeling-place. Denial is a deadening of our very life force; only inaction comes from denial. As we face the reality of this extinction era, as together we wake up, we will process many emotions - because we know that the only way is through.
The only way is through.
What feelings are here, now, for you?
(1) The source for all the italicised content above is: www.ipbes.net/news/Media- Release-Global-Assessment
Anahata Giri May 2019