The aversion to facing our reality and our feeling responses is totally understandable. I don’t want to “go there” either, but the practice of sustaining my gaze is a form of living my truth.
In Part I, Shams shared some of the key moments that shaped his response to a growing awareness of how we are undermining the very ground from which our lives arise and on which they depend, namely, planet Earth, or Gaia. He also spoke about a core principle, “emotional fluency,” based on observing how even distressing feelings can move and change when we allow them breathing room, while feelings we resist tend to persist. Emotions like grief, fear, and despair can be expected when encountering devastating loss or existential threat. Yet our inclination to bypass such feelings deprives us of experiencing the full spectrum of our emotional lives, and of the gifts they can impart. For when we open to them, we may find that they can be a bracing rather than a demoralizing force.
Global warming is a symptom of what’s happening through direct environmental destruction and burning fossil fuels. Related symptoms include loss of ecological and cultural diversity—especially among indigenous peoples—and intensified animal and plant extinctions.
I was on a large call discussing the pandemic and global warming and a doctor said, “The reason we’re focused on the pandemic is because it’s an acute condition whereas global warming is a chronic one.” But global warming is acute. We’re just not perceiving it.
People often say, “I don’t want to fall into despair,” or “If I allow myself to go there then…” But despair is not the enemy of hope. It’s part of the full spectrum of responses one could understandably expect given the precarious situation we find ourselves in. It certainly does not need to be felt as an end-point, but we don’t need to shun the less popular part of the emotional spectrum. Indeed, there’s a high cost for not allowing oneself to feel these responses, as they continue to simmer under the surface. As a practice, this is not yet widely adopted or taught.
The aversion to facing our reality and feeling our responses is totally understandable. I don’t want to “go there” either, but the practice of sustaining my gaze is a form of living my truth. Difficult as it may be, we can always depend on that to deepen us. The ache of witnessing the fraying of the natural world is not really avoidable in a conscious life, so we must learn how to live and engage with this reality.
I shared a practice during the meeting, Responding with Love and Courage to the Call of the Global Ecological Crisis, and, as you kindly asked, am happy to share it here:
These contemplations are set in a meditative atmosphere, with spacious breath and pace, allowing each element to be fully appreciated.
1. Recall a time when you had an awakening to the natural world, whatever comes forward in the moment.
• Allow yourself to re-inhabit and savor that experience.
• Notice what arises in your sensations and feelings in response.
This is the Love element.
2. Now, allow yourself to feel your deepest fears and grief for what you see happening in the fraying of the natural web of life of the planet.
• Within the protection of the atmosphere here, let yourself go there, feeling fully what arises in you.
This is the Courage element.
3. Now invite these experiences to come together, to meet and speak to each other.
• Tap the wisdom of your heart and find how the tears of your grief water your love, and how your love gives you strength to bear witness to what’s happening.
• Allow this recognition to open and free you, invigorating you to meet what’s before us with your full being, and find joy and wonder in that.
May this be a seed of beneficence, a prayer, a gesture of love for the world.
When I recently shared this contemplation with Joanna Macy, sitting beside each other on a hillside, on hearing the third part, she looked over at me said, “That’s it!”
* Editor’s note: I am finding Shams’ practice to be very helpful both in my personal life, and in relation to the unveiled, institutionalized racism we are responsible for. It seems to me a key—the ability to hold two seemingly contradictory sets of emotions and feelings that can give birth to a third way. I look forward to hearing how this practice works for you.
Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there’s nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want it too. Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over—even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I see no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.
See, I live. On what?
Childhood and future are equally present.
Sheer abundance of being
floods my heart.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
From In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” and “Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus” translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows