Dear Waking One,
The world is burning, literally and metaphorically. The soles of our feet feel the flames. Heat seeps into our lungs and smoke makes our eyes water. Do you feel it? Do you question how we’ll ever be able to fix this juggernaut we have set in motion? Are you afraid? Do you feel paralyzed to act?
We are facing collapse and the potential extinction of humanity. We are drastically altering the biosphere from which we evolved. We are killing off entire species, ourselves, and each other at alarming rates.
Let that sink in.
Don’t avert your gaze. Stay with it. Stay with us.
We need you to feel the weight of these actions.
Burnout and despair come easy to anyone who closely looks at our plethora of problems. Whether it’s climate change, our decaying democracy, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, increased xenophobia, hatred, and mass violence. These seemingly intractable issues confront us from all angles. The problems are vast and prevalent, causing many to call our current situation a wicked predicament. There is not one solution that will get us out of this mess. The path forward will not be easy. And we cannot give up. How do we prevent being bowled over by our emotions and the urgentness of change required?
The Good Grief Network creates and disperses tools to help sustain individuals on this difficult and brave journey of becoming a changemaker amidst such overwhelming destruction. We have constructed a 10-step program designed to build personal resilience and empowerment for those of us aware of and overwhelmed by the state of the world. It provides networking opportunities to share resources and strategies for healing and co-creating a life-sustaining society.
Community is tragedy’s remedy. You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you cannot do it alone. The Network provides tools to help you create a supportive community to engage the systemic transformation required. But first, each of us must become aware of and mend our disconnection from ourselves, others, and the natural world. We can do this by working the steps, which results in an acute awareness and exploration of self, leading to bridging the gaps in our lives, reconnecting, and the beginnings of a meaningful, life-focused existence for us all.
The following are steps each of us can take, right now. Practice them. Keep them as tools that help illuminate the path forward. Come back to them when despair overwhelms.
Step 1: Accept The Severity of Predicament. When we catch glimpses of the problems and their severity, don’t look away. We must invite the grief to move through our whole animal body. The planet and our species need us to be awake and aware right now. This requires acknowledging the difficult truth of where we’re at as a culture.
We’ve lost our way. Consumerism, pervasive violence, global warming, the sixth mass extinction, water and food shortages, mass-produced propaganda, and skyrocketing rates of depression all point to the errors of our ways. Our systems are failing us. A delicate balance exists between false optimism and overwhelming pessimism. Reality exists between these two polarities. We aim to live within these two extremes.
Regardless of which collective problem most paralyzes us, remember that balance is a practice. We wobble. We fall. We get up and get to work again. Like any practice, balance gets easier the more we do it.
Now is the time to rise to the challenge. Let’s envision new ways of existing, together.
First, we accept the problem and its severity. After accurately discerning where we are, we can focus on the path to arrive where we want to be.
Step 2: Acknowledge That I Am Part Of The Problem And Solution. By living within the Western paradigm, we have all played a part in getting us to where we’re at culturally, socially, ecologically, and politically. We can do a lot to minimize our carbon footprint. Still, many of us drive, fly, and over-consume. We buy into the consumerist ideology, failing to notice how the system is designed to enslave us with debt. We must confront the old notion that our ability to consume defines our individual worth.
Once we’re aware of these systems and our role in perpetuating them, we can no longer be held captive by our guilt and shame. There isn’t time to be suffocated by these feelings surrounding our role in the problems. We’re using the tools provided by this system to help create a just future. With this level of acceptance, we can address and correct these problematic habits little by little and create systems that actually serve our planet and us.
Step 3: Practice Sitting With Uncertainty. This culture is rigid. We’re conditioned to make little, or no, room for uncertainty. We want guarantees, plans, and perfection. We desire to feel secure and think certainty means security. Yet, control is an illusion. We can calculate the odds of every risk, but there is always some amount of uncertainty that exists. We minimize risks by making smart choices and planning, but there will always be external forces beyond our control. We live on a dynamic planet and our perceptions are limited. There is more to existence than we can take in. Can we give up our need to control the outcomes of our actions? The more we convince ourselves of a certain outcome, the less resilient we are. Can you take risks and chances and find meaning in our daily lives knowing that our existence is unpredictable?
Practicing flexibility moves us out of a fight/flight/freeze response when we experience the unexpected. This allows us to respond from a place of patience and compassion. We must befriend uncertainty to exist in this time and place, and to preserve our sanity.
Step 4: Honor My Own Mortality And The Mortality Of All. Death is a natural and normal part of every life cycle. You will die, as all living things do. Nothing is free from death—not pets, not that person you’re certain you can’t live without, not even the sun. Death is natural. Still, the high rate in which we humans are killing off other species feels nearly impossible to take in. We’re extinguishing other species so quickly that we’re responsible for an extinction event. Humankind has become the first species to control the course of evolution.
How do we remain present while knowing death is inevitable and avoid becoming obsessed by it or dwelling in the dark? Death and life are interrelated. One cannot exist without the other. It is through death that meaning is made. We are alive for such a short time. Heart attacks, accidents, and illness hurl curve balls at the ones we love and us. Nothing is guaranteed. Once we accept the inevitability of death, we can be more alive in the present moment.
How we die matters. We die how we live, so let’s live fully while we’re alive!
Step 5: Do Inner Work. Our personal wounds add weight to the heavy emotions we feel on a collective level. We can deny, repress, or run from our personal struggles until we collapse under them. Or, we can face them with courage, recognizing that feelings are both mental and physical experiences that shape, but do not define us. In doing so, we choose to use this extra baggage and its weight for strength-training a little at a time, rather than buckling underneath it. Our grief then becomes a tool for connection instead of a roadblock to plough through or avoid.
Our culture has deemed some of our feelings acceptable and others taboo. Yet, until we can feel the entire range of our emotions, we cannot truly confront these systemic predicaments. Limiting our range of feelings prevents us from being truly alive. All emotions are transient and recurrent. For example, we don’t “face our despair,” and then never have to think about it again. Feelings are lenses that color our perception of the world. Try each lens on without judgment. What is it about each different perspective that helps create a richer, more meaningful life?
It’s critical to learn methods for processing our feelings, because we’re all ultimately alone. Community offers solace and support, but each of us wakes up and falls asleep in our mind. If we can’t work through our own feelings, the help of a community is limited. We must each commit to a full life experience and build community from that place.
Step 6: Develop Awareness of Brain Patterns And Perception. We think we are rational creatures, but we are not. We construct our reality based on the information collected and processed by our instincts, cognitive biases, five senses, and complex thinking. The combination is limiting. We can’t know what we don’t know. If we never learn how our brain overcompensates for our limitations, we are held captive by the illusion of our perception.
An untrained brain will always react without awareness of our limitations, but we can help our minds become calmer, steadier, and less controlled by fear. In other words, we must learn how to cultivate a non-reactive state of being instead of allowing our limited perceptions to be in control.
Step 7: Practice Gratitude. Between the sensationalized daily news, intra- and interpersonal drama, and the weight of our collective problems all competing for our attention, each moment can feel overwhelming. Practices like meditation, yoga, gratitude, mindfulness, appreciating beauty, and creating meaning rewire our brain, creating new neural pathways helping to overcome our default responses. Through these practices, we fight the paradigm of stress and speed and drop into the portion of our brain that processes information more thoroughly. From this space, we have better control over our reactions. When we remove ourselves from the constant distractions and allow ourselves the time and space to get quiet, we can observe our thoughts instead of identifying as them. These practices gift us moments of calm and lucidity amidst the chaos. They also make us more open to both creating meaning and recognizing beauty.
Beauty and meaning are not optional; they are survival tactics and are available to us if we make the decision to pursue them. Terry Tempest Williams writes that, “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.” No matter the situation, we can find a beautiful action, connection, scene, or moment. Beauty and meaning serve as reminders that there is something outside of us worth living for.
Desperation, depression, and threats to our safety can make it seem that meaning and beauty aren’t available, but as long as there is life, they exist. We only have to make the effort to look or remember times when we have experienced a deep sense of awe and wonder. This sustains us.
Step 8: Take Breaks And Rest. Each of us has personal limitations that we must respect. When your mind or body requires rest, take a break. Being in a place of awareness and vulnerability is taxing, and because we’ve committed to feeling our feelings and working through past trauma, we’ll have developed enough self-awareness to know when we need to take a step back for a moment and regroup. Do what you need to do to refresh yourself and return to the work. Otherwise, you risk burning out. We need you and your energy.
Are you willing to give yourself this moment to recharge? The work will be there when you return.
Step 9: Show Up. Now that we have done some healing through self-reflection and building self-awareness, we need to turn the focus externally. When we’re feeling vulnerable, we’re quick to downplay our experiences by hiding or internalizing that which makes us feel exposed. Part of the human condition involves encountering these uneasy situations and instead of shying away, we lean into the discomfort, showing up for what makes us vulnerable. We cannot permit fear of pain or humiliation stop us from participating in life. There is strength in pushing through that which makes us uncomfortable. There is power and energy in asserting that we’re not going away. Life exists in the moments we show up. To shy away from these experiences is to miss the essence of being alive. So, we must be brave. We must take chances. And we must commit to being the main character in each of our lives.
Show up for yourself.
Step 10: Reinvest Into Problem-Solving Efforts. The final step is to use the wisdom, energy, and resilience that we’ve cultivated through the other steps to inform our every action. When we’re open to our interconnectedness to all beings and the natural world, we make decisions based on compassion and insight instead of egocentric motivations. Instead of thoughtless and selfish actions, we reinvest ourselves with an understanding of the consequences to the larger world. This new type of effort must come from our inner stillness and from our Love for ourselves, each other, the natural world. It will be well-intentioned and well-informed, colored by our perspective, experience, and courage. Unless we’ve undergone an intensive process that forces us to seek truth from within ourselves, rather than having “truth” pushed on us, any action with regard to our collective problems will perpetuate the same social, political, and economic systems that are failing us.
Now is the time for each person to find her opportunity to be powerful. Action and power don’t have to mean risking arrest or giving up on civilized society and living in a yurt. Action and power exist in the decisions we make with compassion, insight, respect, and Love. Our next moves must be made from a place of inner calm and outward reverence.
So now, Waking One, you have some tools to help reinvigorate your efforts in helping to co-create a truly just and harmonious future for all of Earth’s beings. As the world grows more chaotic by the day, it’s important to build and maintain an arsenal of strategies focused on personal resilience and empowerment.
We suggest working through these steps in community. Move through your difficult emotions and past trauma, challenge the social constructions pushed upon you, and wholeheartedly reconnect with life. When you complete the steps, run through them again with the new insight you possess. And then run through them again. Help awaken others and encourage them to reconnect and envision new ways of existing.
Take this leap. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Garnish support from and hold space for others. Let’s process, dream, and grow together.
We need you now. There is no more time to waste.
Onward & With Love,
LaUra Schmidt & Aimee Lewis Reau, Good Grief Network Founders
Teaser photo credit: Good Grief Network website