We think the world was supposed to be different than this. We were supposed to have less chaos. It was supposed to be less on fire. This world with its inconceivable messes, was not what we had intended. We did not aim to create an uninhabitable planet, an unbreathable atmosphere, droughts, floods, or famine. Our plans were not to leave the world with more to clean up for our descendants, and yet, this was baked in to all our best laid plans. And thus, eco-grief is one of the main sources of anxiety and suffering for human beings. In my energy healing and somatic training with clients, we often need to zoom all the way out to the planetary grief and the assumptions we had about the kind of world we were supposed to inherit.
What did you assume you would be given as a world?
What world were you taught you deserved?
What stories were you told about how the world worked? We have strong, unchecked assumptions about the kind of world we deserve – stable, predictable, following certain rules, providing a certain level of safety. Yet the world is chaos then clarity then more chaos. It is the best intentions that sometimes go horribly wrong. In the past, human beings had assumptions of endless growth and prosperity. And many of us now vilify our parents, grandparents, ancestors, and even peers, thinking they should have done better. We inherited from them an earth that they have damaged, in many ways irreparably. We somehow think that they should have known better, that they could have known better, but in truth, how could they? Like us, they were doing the best they could with the contexts and knowledge they inherited. They were as fallible as we are now. And a bit of hubris will be helpful when, decades from now, we look back and see that we also did the best we could with what we had and will have inevitably failed our successors in many ways. But if we are able to acknowledge the fallibility and hubris of those who have come before us, not only will we be more compassionate, we will have easier traction and clearer pathways to create change from where we are now. We will grieve more easily, waste less time and attention on how things should have been, and allow our resources to flow to where we can make an impact.
One of my root teachers of the dharma, Ayya Santacittā, says, “In approximately 6 billion years, the sun will flare up and boil our oceans into deserts. Long before that, many species will die, including ours. Keep these truths with you as we dream about what could happen in the meantime. Hold death as a certainty as you plan your life and co-create livelihood with others.” To be with the truth of samsara without veering into the delusion of despair takes practice and community, over and over again. One of the deepest experiences of samsara for me is the destiny energy of the potential failed experiment of human beings. This isn’t nihilism or anarchic thoughts, just a realization that this IS how it is: We as a species did the best we could as homo sapiens sapiens, and something in our programming led us to a path of self-destruction. It may not continue to be this way; something may shift drastically such that we align with our own survival. But I believe that in order for that shift to happen, we have to give up the idea that our past up until this point should have been otherwise. If we continue to confuse despair with grief, if we cannot remarry ourselves and own that our parents’ and grandparents’ path is part of our own, not separate, we will only continue cycles of isolation that damn us into repeating another iteration of separateness.
In practicing energy healing and somatic work, we are shifting from a game of “survive vs. die” to a game of “all beings thrive.” In order to do this, we harmonize and include all the failed experiments as well as an appreciation for what we were aiming for. We do this in the body, we do this in our storytelling, and we do this in our relationships. We must bring our compassionate “of course” to the story: Of course we wanted to be comfortable. Of course we didn’t realize the true cost. Of course we wanted power and control. Of course we felt unsafe and fearful. Of course, of course, of course we didn’t want to own up to unintended catastrophe.
If we can shift our mindset out of believing that the world owes us reliability, fairness, even safety, then we can begin to open up to find where true safety and true reliability live -- not in conditions or circumstance, but in our own world-making minds and bodies. By being with the body-mind, through somatic training, energy healing, or meditation, we begin to see that underneath our suffering, there is a story of endless resources, endless growth, and our right to a world that makes sense no matter how much nonsense we’re surrounded by. This is the heart of the dharma.
We are shifting out of old definitions of power and prosperity. To do so, we must focus on undermining the old instead of combatting it, eroding it and letting it go instead of hammering away at old stories. This includes being with the terrible, wonderful humanness of it all instead of just hammering away at transgressions. Acknowledgement of wrongs that have been done is essential, yes, and so, too, is reconciliation and forgiveness. But in a broader way, by allowing the old ways to be the old ways and allowing the earth we inherited to be as it is, then we can begin to rest and source power from the only thing that is truly reliable about the earth and about ourselves: changeability.