Balancing Grief And Joy In Turbulent Times

A Crisis Line Responder’s Experience

BETH MCKINLAY – Attention is being brought to the climate crisis like never before. Such things as the “cancelled” winter of 2024, the smoke-filled skies of last summer have sharpened our awareness of it. The recent precedent-setting decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that governments cut CO2 emissions more to protect human rights is a clear response.

In Southern Ontario, we have been relatively protected from the worst ravages but it’s getting harder to ignore the new normal. A long report, The Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment, commissioned by the Ford government and completed by the Sudbury-based Climate Risk Institute, details the impact and risks of climate change on people and communities, ecosystems and the environment, businesses and the economy, food and agriculture and natural resources. It’s not pretty.

When listening to people, I hear their intense anxiety, uncertainty, and deep grief because of the losses and the injustice of climate impacts. I sense their desire to reduce their personal impact. I hear incredible frustration because people want more effective climate legislation. I hear outrage at the fossil fuel industry, which uses record-breaking profits to sow doubt, encourage denialism and lobby against government action.

Some people may be able to use the energy of these emotions in the short term to drive their climate action; others can feel depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, lethargic, and unable to respond.

One of the biggest challenges is feeling powerless. I have watched climate activists burn out under the weight of working to change a system that is largely powered by fossil fuels, and supported by economic and political forces that seem determined to protect the status quo.

My personal response to the climate crisis has been influenced by my work as a Crisis Responder with the Kids Help Phone Crisis Text Line. Many of the people (kids and adults) who text 988 to get support, for themselves or a loved one, feel powerless to change the circumstances of a distressing situation. Crisis Responders listen and work collaboratively with each texter to find coping strategies.

So what to do?

The truth is, we can’t always change a situation, but we can turn to the people, activities, community resources, etc., that soothe us, comfort us, and remind us of our strengths. This may also involve reaching out for professional support through a doctor, and/or by calling or texting 211 to find more long-term community and social resources.

One of the most important things I can do for myself, my family and friends, my community and the planet is to prioritize my own well-being. This isn’t toxic positivity or spiritual by-passing. I want to be engaged in the work of our times, but in a way which is sustainable for me in the long run.

Last year, I decided to commit to “A Year of Saying No”. I don’t say “no” to everything or everyone. I’m just more discriminating, and I say “yes” and to the people and activities that allow me to feel creative, resilient, effective, connected, and peaceful.

This decision was bolstered by the wisdom of Indigenous biologist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer. She writes, “Even a wounded world is feeding us…holding us, and giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair, not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the Earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” Julian of Norwich came to a similar conclusion. During the Black Plague, which killed 50% of the population of Europe, she counseled people to hold grief and joy equally in both hands.

Making more space for joy means saying ‘no” to the Doom and Gloom climate narrative that dominates mainstream media and social media. I seek inspiration in the channels, books, and podcasts that highlight the actions of millions of small groups and individuals worldwide who are devoted to climate justice.

I’m learning to say “no” to my own eco-anxiety and eco-grief. Practicing mindfulness helps me be more self-aware of my emotions and thoughts, to do things which nurture peace and calm, and to reframe my thoughts. For example, every time I hear of another climate disaster, I remind myself that these events are waking more people up to the reality of this crisis.

I remind myself that five years ago, no one could have imagined all the positive advances that are becoming commonplace. However we need to do more, and faster. We need all hands on deck. There is room for every talent and skill in this transition. Even comedians are getting involved, aiming to overcome climate doom and inspire action through offerings like Climate Science Translated, and the Climate Comedy Cohort.

Personally, it has helped me to say “yes” to volunteering with Peterborough’s climate group, For Our Grandchildren. I’ve connected with others who share my concerns, and I’m awed and uplifted by their strengths, resourcefulness and actions.

Because I have always found so much peace and joy in nature, I said “yes” to a Forest and Nature Therapy Guide training program with Ecowisdom.ca. Now, I’m thrilled to facilitate Mindful Nature Connection programs with local community groups in an inclusive and accessible way. I have been delighted to witness the calming and restorative impact of these practices, even when they are done indoors.

I’m inspired by the idea that being alive in these transformative times is an incredible opportunity to help shape new ways of relating to one another and the “more than human world”. This can all feel daunting at times, but then I remind myself that I can do hard things….and that prioritizing self-care and “choosing joy” definitely makes this more possible.

Balancing Grief And Joy In Turbulent Times © 2024 by Beth McKinley in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Beth McKinlay is an educator, and a volunteer with For Our Grandchildren, and the Kids Help Phone Crisis Text Line. She is a trained Forest and Nature Therapy guide and offers Forest Bathing/Shinrin-Yoku/Mindful Nature Connection programs to community groups. She finds joy with family and friends, in nature, art, dance, and playing piano.

Information on her approach to Mindful Nature Connection.

We invite you to discover more on the impact and role of emotions in responses to climate breakdown in Climate Grief is Different and Is Faith in the Future Realistic?.

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