We are all troubled by difficult emotions as we consider our environmental predicament. Some of us may seek to escape those difficult emotions by getting busy with activism or perhaps by complaining about others who don’t share our views.
Some recent negativity towards my work reminded me of how despair is something we can learn from – but that it takes time. Including time away from the public sphere and the rush of our daily lives.
Last January 2018 I shared some recommendations for people experiencing difficult emotions. based on my looking back over the 4 years since I had begun to accept that near term societal collapse would be likely, or even inevitable. This was in my long essay called “After Climate Despair”. It was before my work on this topic had become well known and it feels appropriate to re-post it below.
When experiencing difficult emotions associated with the latest news and analysis on climate change implications for societal collapse…
1) Return to, or explore afresh, the idea of a divine or a spirit or a consciousness or a God that is prior to the Earth and moves through the Universe right now and forever more. Do so without seeking a simple story of explanation but a sense of faith that there is an existence and a meaning beyond our culture, our species and our planet. Such ‘faith’ helps anyone to experience and process the inevitable difficulties and traumas of life.
2) Listen to those stories from people both past and present who tell us that despair is not the end and therefore does not have to be avoided. Recognise how many spiritual traditions see despair as a gateway to our growth.
3) Beware when people are promoting their views on what they think the implications of information will be, rather than views on the information itself. The impacts of certain information about climate on other people’s motivations are not certain, and in many cases the darkest analyses have triggered a new level of creativity and boldness. Instead, look at the information and analysis directly for yourself, without second guessing what some interpretations might lead to.
4) Recognize that any emotional or intellectual resistance you may experience to information which implies catastrophe may come from what you have been consciously or subconsciously telling yourself about your own self-worth, purpose and meaning. Then remember how your views of yourself and the world have evolved through your life and still can.
5) Don’t panic. Give yourself time to evolve both personally and professionally in response to your emerging awareness, but ensure you stay connected to a group or an activity which keeps reminding you of the basis for your emerging awareness.
6) Recognize there is much work ahead for you to reconstitute concepts of meaning and what’s good and to align your life with those. It will not happen overnight, yet it will not happen if you do not give time to this work. There may be some time needed to bridge your existing life with the way you will want to live in future.
7) Plan more time and resources for you to do things which inspire wonder at life. This could be more time in beautiful environments, or with uplifting music, or in contemplation, or through creative writing, or being with loved ones and close friends. That means freeing up time from other activities such as TV, social media and mainstream news. It may also mean downshifting from your workload.
8) Look for opportunities for supported self-reflection and sense-making. This is because your worldview and self-identity will undoubtedly transform overtime as you process the new information and analysis.
9) Expect a catharsis, both personal and professional. This will occur because the subconscious or conscious limits that you placed on yourself until now will be lifted. Go with that rush of energy and creativity, but be vigilant that those new activities don’t become so consuming they distract you from the personal work you still need to do.
10) If you are a mission-driven professional in fields related to environment or social justice then expect that you may be driven to rebuild a sense of self-worth and that this need of the ego, while natural and potentially useful, could become a frantic distraction.
11) Expect a change in your personal relationships and how you spend your spare time. Some forms of small talk and light-hearted social interaction with acquaintances may seem pointless, while you may wish to spend more time with close friends and family. While for some this could be a welcome rebalancing, for others this can become a vector of reclusiveness and loneliness. Therefore, it is important to find new ways of connecting with people on the new levels that feel meaningful to you.
12) Create a positive vision of people sharing compassion, love and play. It may feel that an eco-tragic outlook means you cannot have any meaningful vision of a better future for yourself, your community, or humanity. An absence of something positive to work towards can be destabilising and limiting. Some people will think you are depressed – or depressing – and need some “positive thinking”. For a personal vision, the answer may lie in developing a vision for how you will be approaching life, rather than imagining attributes of a lifestyle. This may parallel the dimensions of a collective vision. A future full of love and learning, rather than flying cars and fancy robots, could be a way to imagine a more beautiful world. And remember, the future will still be beautiful in its own way, no matter what life forms are in it – or if your favourite town is under water!
13) Don’t get dogmatic and avoid those who do. That comes from recognising that our terms for phenomena are not the same as the phenomena themselves. The words we use imply things which may have effects on us but aren’t necessarily so. Words like near-term, civilisation, collapse, and tragedy, are our words, and may trigger ideas, images and emotions which aren’t inevitable consequences of the phenomena being described.
14) Do not prioritise maintaining your own mental and physical situation at the expense of the need to act in solidarity with future generations who will live with the future we are creating for them. Tomorrow’s children won’t thank us much for having joined a support group on Facebook or taken up yoga, unless it aligned with us remaining active in the world.
Looking back over the year since I drafted these suggestions, number 10 is particularly relevant for me now that my work on Deep Adaptation became famous. That reaction has meant I’ve been far busier than I had planned. Could it be a form of denial? Perhaps. So long as I don’t feel frantic or begrudging, then I will keep at it for now.
I sense that some of these 14 steps may be particularly difficult for people with public roles or self-images as environmental leaders. I have listed some resources on emotional support here.
My original essay from last year is also available as an audio file here.
If you have your own suggestions for steps in the process of collapse-acceptance, then please leave them below, or join the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group to share.
9 thoughts on “Fourteen Recommendations on Living Beyond Collapse-Denial”
I’m sure someone else has suggested this, or suggested it in a different way, but I think Frank Ostaseski’s 5 Invitations offer much support for deep adaptation:
1. Don’t Wait
2. Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing
3. Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience
4. Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things
5. Cultivate Don’t Know Mind
Thank you, Jem — The tone of this post is practical, compassionate, and gentle – exactly what is needed for this dialogue. I’m particularly focused on Recommendation #1, because I believe with all my heart in the loving “God who is prior to the Earth and moves through the Universe right now and forevermore” 🙂
Your first and last mistake is to rely upon a fictitious God myth to make things easier. The only way we can get through this is to not rely on the religious crutches and get to work, together, in reality. This whole disaster is caused by our own dependency on the easy way out. What’s the difference between denying climate change and denying reality? There is none. It’s time to toughen up and get to work!
Also, realize that stress isn’t only psychological and social but physical and physiological as well. This is shown in the problems of high inequality (see Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level), for example in how it mimics poverty even for those who aren’t poor (see Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder).
Make sure to get good rest and, when possible, relax. Find time to destress, from meditation to play.Exercise is immensely important as well, both muscle training and aerobics. Maybe do some stretching as well or else something like yoga. At least as important, if not more, is what we take into our bodies. Spend time in nature breathing clean air, especially if your otherwise forced to live in an area of questionable air quality. Use filtered water (and add back in trace minerals and electrolytes, such as with a pinch of sea salt). Eliminate toxins in your environment, including simple things like removing harsh cleaners from your home. Our bodies are overloaded and struggling, and so we need to help in the process of detoxification.
Along those lines, what I’ve found most powerful is diet. Low-carb diets, especially ketogenic, have been scientifically shown to decrease inflammation, in the brain and elsewhere in the body, as related to numerous conditions, from mood disorders to autoimmune disorders. A high-carb diet combined with nutrient deficiencies put most people in a state of vulnerability that, although physical in origin, can often be experienced as symptoms that aren’t obviously physical. On the other hand, a low enough carb diet, besides increasing ketosis, will help the body with autophagy which is how the body heals and repairs by stimulating stem cells and creating new cells — autophagy can also be induced through fasting, in that after three days of fasting your entire immune system will have its cells replaced with new ones.
By the way, a low-carb, ketogenic or otherwise, can be done as a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, or carnivore. It simply means cutting out the carbs, although to work this means adding in fats and oils, either from animals or plants: animal fat, egg yolks, full-fat dairy, butter, ghee, cheese, coconut milk/cream, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, etc. For those seeking to be low-carb/keto while being plant-based, with or entirely without any animal foods, there are several good authors who have put out books on how to do this: Dr. Terry Wahls, Dr. Will Cole, and Dena Harris (some others could be named).
This dietary angle relates to environmental issues. We have a high-carb diet because of the government subsidization of the green revolution that created surplus yields of corn and grains. These industrial agricultural goods are not only toxic with chemicals but also depleted of nutrients, not only from how they were grown but also how they were cultivated — the low levels of phytochemicals being the reason why modern produce is often so tasteless, as compared to heirloom varieties. With some produce, certain nutrients are upwards of 70% lower than they were earlier last century. The decreasing use of grazing and crop rotation has added to the problem.
So, make sure to buy quality food from trustworthy sources. When possible, buy local and in season — fresh picked produce is far more nutritious. Buy organic, pasture-raised, and grass-finished. This will support your own health but also will support the health of the land that is being farmed on and, with local farmers, will support the health of your local community. By the way, grazing cattle is one of the most effective methods of sequestering atmospheric carbon.
It will not only be morally good with practical benefits for it will also make you feel good, quite literally. If you have never cut out high-carb/sugar junk food and gone on a ketogenic diet, you might not realize how powerfully your dietary lifestyle effects you. I did this and, after decades of struggling with depression, I haven’t since had a single depressive funk. My mood has greatly improved, such that I feel much more relaxed about life and more forgiving toward others. It emphasizes how crappy I used to feel which made me irritable and at times antagonistic. I only wish I could have figured this out when I was younger.
We often take stress as normal and inevitable in our modern society, and to an extent it is as long as the present dysfunctional system remains in place, but still there is much we can do as individuals and as communities. There are concrete actions we can take to directly improve our own lives and the lives of those we care about. And those concrete actions can support a more positive attitude and a kinder way of relating. Our physical health is the foundation upon which all else is built.
I realize I didn’t quite clarify my point about inequality. In the works of those authors they show how inequality is behind numerous health conditions, pretty much everything you can imagine, from the straightforwardly physical to the psychiatric and neurocognitive. Whether or not it begins in the body, it shows up in the body.
This is exacerbated by the inequality also existing within the healthcare system and food system. Those who most need healthcare and healthy food (to deal with the inequality of poverty, pollution, lead toxicity, etc) are those least able to afford and access it. Furthermore, even access to such simple things as green spaces, parks, and wilderness areas is an inequality issue that powerfully impacts health.
Environmental issues are quite personal. It’s not only about mass events of droughts, refugee crises, and such. The accumulation of stresses build up in our bodies. And that accumulation takes its starkest form as inequalities that divide our society and worsen every problem.
As individuals and as communities, we are in a weakened state which leads to people reacting to each new stressor and unable to plan for the future, much less deal with vast complex failures. Simply put, people feel overwhelmed and, under such conditions, people don’t always act from their best selves. Add enough stress and every person and every society has its breaking point.
Simple things like meditation, exercise, and diet may seem too small to make a difference. But we have to take care of ourselves if we are to have any hope of taking care of one another. It’s when things seem most out of control that the small things matter the most. They can make all the difference in the world.
Ive been using this list since the first version came out, to help people in climate-shock. Our XR group in Hamilton ON is emphasizing deep adaptation as we raise public resolve to demand the truth and action.
i am a one spirit minister and would like to offer workshops supporting people emotionally and spiritually…. i used to facilitate deep ecology workshops which would have had much in comn with deep adaptation.. eg the truth mandala in which people were able to experience their grief and anger and despair in a ritualised safe space in order to come through to a place of love and compassion and connectedness. this is work that really needs to be done urgently with people as we live through these times…as you say despair can be a gateway to a deeper sense of loving connection, to peace and steadiness and balance and a way to inspire right action and avoid panic, fear and resulting violence
Jane please join the Deep Adaptation Forum http://deepadaptation.info
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Fourteen Recommendations on Living Beyond Collapse-Denial « Professor Jem Bendell