In our Buddhist community, at the invitation of our local XR group, we dedicate one practice session each month to the living earth. In our most recent session I talked about and made a space for grief, and I’ll share some of those same thoughts here.
I remember a childhood holiday to Cornwall. We drove down from the West Midlands in our blue-grey Lada and at the end of the journey, after we had set up camp, my dad washed the car windscreen. We had hit so many bugs on the way down, and their splattered bodies were spread across the glass. Last year I drove to Scotland and the windscreen was almost clear.
People older than me might remember having to pull over to wash the windscreen on long journeys, or the moth ‘snowstorm’ that appeared in the headlights of cars driving at night.
You will have your own experiences of the loss: how you used to be woken up the dawn chorus as a child, but now the early mornings are much quieter; a favourite wild place that has been built over; or the loss of people and places to extreme weather events.
I am moved as I write about and name these events. I can feel tears and grief in my stomach wanting to rise up and find expression.
We often shy away from feeling such powerful emotions out of fear that they will overwhelm us. Not wanting to feel this pain is completely understandable, and this denial can prevent us from taking action to support of the living planet.
Understanding our own reluctance to feel grief can allow us to understand why others don’t want to feel this grief and why they don’t take the action we might like them to take.
A Second Kind of Grief
I am a child of the 80s and 90s. We were promised endless material wealth, if only we would work hard. We were fed endless material dreams:
- “Get this, buy this, things will make you happy!”
- “When you grow up you can choose to spend your money however you want.”
- “Travel the world!”
I recently looked into my heart and found a place that grieves for not getting what it wants. A small boy who still wants those promises to be fulfilled, “But you told me I could!” he cries. When I first discovered this about myself I was ashamed. These are not the feelings of a conscientious person. And yet, the feelings we have are the feelings we have. I have found a way to be kind to that part of me, and to allow its grief to find expression.
Again, understanding these places in our own hearts allows us to more deeply understand those others.
It’s important to find places to express grief; to find ways of allowing the pain to exist which aren’t overwhelming. When we can acknowledge our deep feelings — anger, blame, hurt and sadness —we allow them to move and shift and change. They become a source of strength rather than a source of fear.
What is it that allows us to process and experience our own grief? It is love.
For me, much of that love comes from my Buddhist faith. Knowing that I am loved and supported by the cosmic Buddhas returns me to a feeling of safety, where I can name and feel powerful feelings without being consumed, overwhelmed or traumatised.
Some of you will have religious higher powers that you can take refuge in like this: God, the Tao, Krishna and so on.
Some of you will have loving communities and relationships where you find this same kind of love. A love that accepts you just as you are.
Some of you will intuit something loving in the natural world: watching a sunset, being in wilderness, looking up at the night sky.
Some of you will find a place inside yourselves that unconditionally loves and accepts yourself and others.
Some of you might find it in professional therapeutic relationships.
Some of you might still be searching for this.
As we find safe spaces to grieve we come to know ourselves more deeply. We discover our pain, and our resistance to pain. We come to know the human condition more deeply.
This knowing is essential for our work in relationship to others. As we process our own deep feelings it is easier to come into relationship to the deep feelings of others, and to find ways of standing together.
And as we find ways of letting grief in, we come into a more intimate relationship with the natural world and are more able to celebrate and champion the diversity and life that still flourishes.
I encourage you to find spaces to grieve in, and to support the grieving process of others. That can only be good for us, and for the living planet.
Podcast episodes on this theme:
- Rainforest Mind: Buddhist Psychology, Climate Change and Spiritual Encounters
- Rainforest Mind: Embodied eco-spirituality with Allison Priestman
- Rainforest Mind: Wild Therapy with Stephen Tame