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Discharging on Climate Change, and Trying Things

At my Community report-back1 this past weekend, it was clear that most of the people had not worked much on care of the environment. They’re taking baby steps—like they need to be really careful. I gave the biggest, most well-rounded picture possible. It’s that tricky balance of communicating the urgency of the situation without sounding urgent. I wanted people to leave the event curious, interested, and maybe a little hopeful about care of the environment.

I don’t know how long it’ll take for the RCers in my Area to become activists. It might be more efficient to go out and teach RC to people who are already activists. One thing is for sure: they need us. At a recent local climate event I attended there were nine different speakers and an onslaught of information, with no time to process, no break, and no chance to talk to the people sitting next to me. I left feeling like I never wanted to go to one of those things again! I made certain that people coming to my Sustaining All Life report-back did not leave feeling like that.

Counseling on climate change

Here are some thoughts in response to Wytske’s first question about working on climate change in sessions:2 

I have helped people reconnect with a sense of “awe and wonder” about the natural environment. When I did this with some people of the global majority during a care-of-the-environment class, I was moved to tears, as I could feel each person’s excitement and joy. People told story after story of the incredibleness around us. We need to get back that sense of connectedness with the rest of the planet.

Something else that’s worked is to use music. Recently I discovered two songs by John Denver, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Calypso,” that are focused on nature. I listened to them one evening for six hours straight, as I cried and cried. I had things I needed to do, but I just couldn’t stop crying, so I kept on listening to them over and over until late into the night. One was like a soothing lullaby, and the other reminded me of the joy and hope I’d experienced on the Sustaining All Life team. When I worked on the songs in sessions and cried some more, I realized that my tears had something to do with the simple “little” things we take for granted, like sunshine on our shoulders, and what it would be like to not have them, and with the amazing sea animals and wondering how long they’d last in the increasingly acidic oceans.

As for re-evaluations, when I’m walking to the bus stop early in the morning, I’m more aware and appreciative of the moon in the dark sky, the barren trees, the brisk air against my face, the sun as it rises and lights the sky on fire. I notice the ice crystals on the blades of grass and the puddles of water shimmering in the moonlight. I notice details of life in hibernation, or blossoms coming out in the middle of winter because of the spring-like temperatures. I notice how scared I get when the weather switches from spring-like to a deep freeze in a matter of days, or when people celebrate how warm it is in winter or think that we’re “safe” here in Canada. Then I remember that I was oblivious myself just a few years ago.

I’ve looked at early memories of and feelings about environmental activists (“tree huggers,” “hippies”). These middle-class white environmentalists lived very different lives from my working-class immigrant family, who worked to scrape by.3 It was confusing and left me feeling like I didn’t want to be “one of them.”

I’ve watched video clips, documentaries, and other movies on climate change with a counselor or support group, and we’ve discharged together before, during, and after. We’ve talked about what we remember and what’s hard to remember. Distress can prevent us from being able to hold some things in our minds.

I’m much more deliberate about discharging fear and terror. Lots of fear has come up since returning home from Paris. I keep saying to my counselor, delightedly, “Did I tell you that I’m scared?” Terrifying images of climate change trigger the fear. I often have a bucket ready for the heaving that inevitably happens. If my counselor can stay relaxed and pleased, I feel safer to feel the fear.

The re-evaluation is that I never realized how much fear I had inside! I keep reminding myself it is old and continue putting my mind there. I have noticed that I’m driven to eat constantly to keep from feeling the fear. I suspect that my mother put food in my mouth to keep me from crying.

Discharging with other RCers who are activists for the environment has been inspirational and nourishing. It’s great to hear about the exciting work they are doing and also to notice that we’re all in this together as we give each other a hand4 with our material.5 When an environmental activist relaxedly tells me not to lose hope, or that we have a chance, or that they have confidence in me, I’m liable to believe it more, and it brings lots of discharge.

It has helped to be connected to and discharge with care-of-the-environment activists in other parts of the world. When I was in Paris, I met a climate activist and urban planner from Nepal. He is grounded and connected and has excellent attention. I learn so much from listening to him and his perspective on life, care of the environment, and activism. It deepens and broadens my outlook and makes the world smaller.

Being more aware

In response to Wytske’s second question, being more aware has allowed me to talk about climate change to everyone and anyone, to whatever extent they have attention, and to make links between climate change and many other things. My awareness allows me to decide what would bring these individuals out to engage with me. I have to work with where they are, not where my patterns of urgency say they should be. I’m trying to be more aware of the language I use, my tone, and where I have or don’t have attention, and to really reach for connection, common ground, and a sense of being in the same boat together.

Taking action

Discharging consistently on climate change has allowed me to think broadly about how to be in the world. I’ve worked on organizing on three levels—a personal level, a community-building level, and a political level. I was stuck in the personal level for the longest time, but discharging the fear and having strong connections have given me space to think about the other two. (I’m still scared, but that doesn’t stop me like before.) Taking action on any of these levels brings up loads of stuff to work on. It’s that old formula again: decide, act, discharge—in that order.

On a personal level, I look at what I can do with my daily habits—at my consumption of food, energy, and so on, and how to reduce it. Halving it, as suggested by Marcie,6 has been a good direction. I’ve decided to become vegetarian. I fast the first day of every month to be in solidarity with others in the world who can’t eat. My husband and I are growing microgreens and sprouts inside and planning a huge vegetable garden in the front yard, to replace the lawn. We’re replacing the old roof with a “green” roof and figuring out how to use rainwater or “grey water” for watering the flowers. We’re thinking about where we shop, what we buy, and how far it travels. We’re meeting with our financial advisor to divest from fossil-fuel industries. I’m financially supporting environmental organizations that are doing good work. Dan Nickerson and Seán Ruth7 have talked about deciding not to organize one’s life around comfort. That’s been big!

Community building means building a home base for myself with people nearby who share my interests. I’ve been reaching out to my neighbours—chatting on the street, getting to know their names and their dogs, deliberately asking them for help, sharing produce from the garden. I’m starting a women-of-colour RC group to support me in my efforts and give me a place to try things. I’ve looked into neighbourhood agencies that work on women’s issues and food sustainability, to see about volunteering. I’m considering joining a neighbourhood church to meet more people in the area.

Political lobbying is totally new for me and has been great for discharge. I’ve joined a lobbying group that has excellent structures for educating members and keeping them connected. I bring a friend with me to meetings (that scare the crap out of me8 because I don’t know anything). I’m learning about what’s happening on all levels of government. And being on the mailing lists of several environmental organizations keeps me busy with lots of reading!

We get to try stuff. And it’s not about whether we’re good at it or there’s a guarantee of success. It’s simply to stretch ourselves outside our comfort zone and then take all the feelings that come up to sessions.

Bo-Young Lim

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders in the care of the environment

(Present Time 183, April 2016)

1 A report-back on the Sustaining All Life project at the United Nations climate talks in Paris, France, in late 2015
2 See previous article.
3 “Scrape by” means barely survive.
4 “A hand” means some help.
5 “Material” means distress.
6 Marcie Rendon, the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans
7 Dan Nickerson is the International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People. Seán Ruth is the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People.
8 “Scare the crap out of me” means scare me a lot.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00