This weekend I attended a protest with fellow climate activists in London and since my return I have been swirling with emotion. This has been a mixture of climate grief, re-ignited after spending time with others who are also frightened about the climate crisis, and the usual mess of feelings that accompany activism – frustration, vulnerability, fear, and all the reactions to the hate that activism elicits in members of the public.
I am interested in what it means to approach all this with gentleness. A part of me says, there is no room for gentleness here. The very existence of the human race is at stake, and we need to pull out all the stops. This part of me had some ideas this morning about what I should be doing. I have already been arrested several times as a result of non-violent direct action, but this part says it’s time for me to go to prison – like the sixty-nine climate activists who’ve already spent time in UK jails so far this year. This part is frightened about what’s coming, and desperate for the world to wake up to the suffering that is already unfolding, and the suffering to come.
When situations are extreme, I think that it is appropriate for our reactions to be extreme. I can meet my grief and my rage with gentleness – a fierce variety which doesn’t flinch at the intensity of the emotion but instead says, welcome. Of course you are feeling this way. Tell me more about yourself. Let me see you.
This fierce gentleness reminds me of the look on the Buddha’s face. I can see my golden Buddha from where I am typing, and there is a steadiness to them – a vast calm that is bigger than anything anyone can throw at it. This is the quality I am channelling when I meet my climate grief and rage. When I can’t manage it myself, I lean into the Buddha instead. It kind of feels like the same thing anyway.
Enjoying my ordinary life
This meeting of my strong emotion with gentleness doesn’t sterilise it, or even dilute it. It’s still there, and just as strong. It doesn’t feel overwhelming any more, though. It feels like there is plenty of space inside me for the sadness, and also space for other things – the possibility of enjoying my ordinary life alongside this backdrop of increasing horror. There is room for the worst of humankind (and I include parts of myself in that category!) as well as the most honourable. There is room for the worst-case scenario of the complete extinction of the human race, alongside the possibilities of global action to mitigate the crisis and begin to repair the damage – as well as everything in between. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by George Fox, a Quaker:
“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”
An ocean of light and love
There is an ocean of darkness and death. We are living in extraordinary times – we sit on the cusp of the self-destruction of our kind, as well as the extinction of so many other species. And. There is an infinite ocean of light and love. I mostly access this ocean through the Buddha, but there are many places to find it – in nature, through other religions, or through a faith in the ultimate goodness of humankind (underneath all that self-protection and fear). It isn’t weak, this love – it is stronger than we can imagine. In my experience, it also meets us with gentleness. It sees what’s roiling around inside us, and it takes us by the hand. It leads us to the light.
How do you feel about the climate crisis? How do you make space for these feelings? What support do you offer yourself? What else could you do to help you to feel less alone or less hopeless? (You’re not alone…)