I believe that at some primal level, we are all swinging between the same extreme states of flooding, stress, depletion, and burnout that our Earth Mother is unapologetically reflecting back to us this summer with extreme rainfall, flash floods, heatwaves, wild fires, and climate catastrophes in many new regions all over the globe.
We feel powerless and overwhelmed when we look around us and tune into the state of the world — it’s easy to feel as if we’re being victimized by our own emotions, human nature, and the earth, which are all out to get us and make our lives miserable. Nothing could we further from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong. The suffering, upheaval, and havoc caused by (human-driven) climate crises are real, and particularly debilitating and hurting the voiceless, marginalized, and most oppressed and disenfranchised humans – as well as countless non-human animals, plants, and parts of the planet.
My extended family, friends, and the majority of citizens in my native Suriname live on or near the coast and have been plagued by floods and increasing temperatures and humidity for more than a decade, if not longer. In addition to the many political and economic challenges Suriname has faced as a former Dutch colony that only gained independence in 1975, it is now one of the poorest and most vulnerable countries to river and coastal floods in the world.
Environmental injustices most severely harm people of color and low-income communities in the US and around the world who are in the worst possible position, in terms of financial and political power, to overhaul and reform our global capitalistic and polluting systems and industries. Of course, they are bonafide victims and at risk of becoming helpless climate refugees of environmental injustices (piled on top of historical injustices and oppression, colonization, slavery, patriarchy, racism, etc.).
No doubt, they will be blamed and further scapegoated for causing trouble and threatening our comfortable ways of life when the day comes when they have no other choice but to knock on the doors and walls of first-world countries for asylum. So no, I’m not clueless about nor dismissing the reality of these kinds of injustices and oppression, and how easy and understandable it is to feel powerless these days if subjected to this on a daily basis or aware of and pained by the sheer amount of it all around us.
Yet, I’d like you to consider this quote by Winona LaDuke:
“One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”
– Winona LaDuke, Founder of Honor the Earth, American economist and environmentalist known for her work on tribal land claims and preservation
There seems to be an inverse relationship between our modern-day definitions, affinity to, and sense of power — brute force, money, and ability to control people and situations — and Winona’s definition of power — our connection to the earth and to wise and aligned ancestors. With this I mean, the more we crave or believe that we need force and control in order to restore our wholeness and the integrity of our Earth Mother, the more powerless we will feel and be in achieving these goals.
Ironically, the less we invest in this kind of disconnected power and the more we attend to and amplify our true power — Winona’s version — the more effective, clear, grounded, spacious, and psychologically and spiritually resourceful and resourced we will feel and be in contributing to human and planetary healing and environmental sustainability. It’s in this mysterious sweet spot of human-nature connection and existence where magic and serendipitous opportunities physically materialize, letting us know that our Earth Mother has our back.
This awesome quote by Barny Wong basically says the same, linking Gaia’s power with the solid ground of infinite consciousness:
“We need to have one ‘heavier’ foot on the solid ground of infinite consciousness to be able to pull the other foot out of the quicksand of capitalism and not get sucked into a co-dependent relationship with it.”
– Barny Wong, founder of One Tiny Drop
I call this kind of power — that’s untouchable and that no one and no experience can take from you — SOUL AUTHORITY. An important perk of Soul Authority is that you stop running from pain and develop an aversion to denial and sticking your head in the sand. The truth of who we are and what we are here to do and transform will take precedence into the foreground of our consciousness and conscience, making us feel energized and aligned when connected to your authentic self and True North compass.
Instead of feeling like a victim of climate change — even if snow blizzards, floods, Dune-like skies, and heat domes are now invading our first-world streets, skies, and backyards — it will make crystal-clear sense why this era in time is unofficially referred to as the Anthropocene Epoch. It’s describing this most recent period in time when we humans have changed Earth’s geology and ecosystems in very harmful and sometimes irreversible ways (coral reef, for instance), and struggle to take ownership and grow up at the speed that’s needed to halt the destructive domino effects we’ve put into motion. It’s a nice way of saying that we humans have been running amok, acting like gods stuck in the terrible-twos stage of spiritual maturity and exercising powerful technologies that are triggering a 6th mass extinction.
While striving for social and environmental equity is important — providing resources and technological advances that improve the quality of life and survival rates of the historically disenfranchised — climate solutions need to go deep enough to rebalance and renature us in truly sustainable ways. That means uprooting and dismantling the factors that now cause the proliferation of climate change which has historically and still is systematically being fueled by the richest and the most powerful, privileged, and oblivious people on the planet.
For instance, even if the much-needed state-of-the-art irrigation and flood risk management project approved by the World Bank in 2019 does prevent the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, a UNESCO world heritage site, from completely flooding in the next few decades and offers hundreds of thousands immediate relief, we can’t dust off our hands here. The solutions need not only be accelerated and remedied with a holistic approach (Paramaribo was just a few weeks ago again flooded for days in the midst of food scarcity, abominable inflation, gas shortages, and covid spikes), most importantly is remembering that putting out fires and rescuing people downstream without ever addressing the root problem upstream is unsustainable and will eventually backfire.
We must target the root problem which is the rising heat and dangerous humidity due to air pollution, causing extreme draught, wildfires and heat waves, parched land, and flash floods, the melting of icebergs that are dangerously encroaching a tipping point beyond return, and the warming of oceans and rising of sea levels killing marine life and threatening coastal communities with more floods.
It’s remembering that while the most privileged of us benefit the most from advanced technologies, industries, and institutions, we are also significantly crippled by our cushy ways of life and addictions to instant gratification, distraction, and relief. It’s very easy for us to get seduced and trapped into denial and privilege bubbles. Just a few pokes into our fear and undigested trauma can trigger emotional overwhelm and short-circuiting.
We can’t remain symptom-relief focused in the way we tend to be with our own bodies, ignoring our body wisdom and popping pills, self-medicating with substances, food, work, stuff, or other distractions, cranking up the AC or air filter when we’re uncomfortable, in pain, or stressed and stop there when we feel better. Our pain is our best guide in restoring both our personal and planetary health.
We don’t have time left for excuses, for coddling, and for sheltering ourselves from these hard and painful truths. If maxed out and overwhelmed, it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s high time to let ourselves be rudely shaken awake and do all within our power to keep from sliding deeper into shell-shock and our default (traumatized) pain bodies (due to the disconnection from our truth and authentic self in Westernized societies — more on what to do instead later).
“We cannot just turn up the AC; we have to turn up our level of efforts fighting the underlying cause of our changing world — climate change,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wrote after the heat waves in a Seattle Times op-ed. “Our recent discomfort is but the tip of the melting iceberg,” Inslee wrote. “What we felt this week is just the opening act in a looming global disaster.” During this record-high heat wave that matched humidity and temperatures in the hottest areas of the planet (Middle East), hundreds of humans in the Pacific Northwest who didn’t have AC were boiled alive along with hundreds of millions of marine animals and other species. This will happen more often unless all of us take action as a global collective now.
Mind & Life Summer Research Institute on Mind, the Human-Earth Connection and Climate Change
I had the good fortune to attend the exciting Mind & Life Summer Research Institute on Mind, the Human-Earth Connection and Climate Change in the beginning of the summer. It was one of the richest, week-long conferences I’ve been to in my life (despite it being a 3-d zoom puzzle that included meditative retreats, panel discussions, smaller break-out rooms, poetry and arts, yoga, Qi gung, hard-core research studies, and posters). All this happened without a single glitch or tech issue! Incredible.
There’s so much more I’d like to share with you and will in upcoming newsletters in regard to what I learned as both a BIPOC participant and poster presenter from the 200+ cutting-edge scientists, public policy makers, environmental conservation experts, and contemplatives from 30+ countries and 50 fields present. The best part was experiencing the great synergy that existed between us and our passion projects.
What do you think the most commonly reported feelings and obstacles were among these professionals who are steeped in this work, day in day out, and making a bigger difference than most in this arena? Believe it or not, the same eco-anxiety — overwhelm, despair, frustration, anger, fear, and even denial — that we may think only affects those of us who lack an effective outlet or forum to exercise our activism, voice our concerns, and positively influence others.
Fortunately, there were many wise elders (some quite young, like 32 yr old Dine/Navajo activist Lyla June) who steered us in the right direction. It was also very inspiring to get a clear overview of what was being done, what was most effective, and what we need more of. I’ll share some highlights with you now and will unpack them more over the course of the following months, promise.
- Environmental sustainability is achieved through inner and outer transformation.
- Eco-wellness benefits humans and the planet simultaneously.
- Climate change is a public health concern.
- Everything is interconnected. Throwing one aspect out of balance creates a feedback loop that throws other ecologies out of balance. Coming back in balance does the reverse.
- The climate crisis doesn’t just affect polar bears. Our integrity, morality, and compassion need to move us to resolve social /climate injustices.
- Limitations of research and knowledge circulating in obscure journals and books: public policy is not always solidly backed by and sometimes even undermined by the public (hence the need for a consciousness revolution and working from the bottom-up as well as from the top-down)
- There’s a need to heal ancestral and collective trauma (i.e. colonialism, greed, human, animal, and earth exploitation, white supremacy, patriarchy, and racism — many consider it to be the spiritual root cause of climate change and injustice)
Powerful quotes from the conference:
The sacred means reverence, recognition and respect for non-violation . . . Dead carbon has fossilized our minds and our hearts because we are escaping our responsibilities to the earth and to each other by thinking we can buy our way out with oil. We became indifferent to life on earth. We created an agriculture that has huge mastery in using tools of carelessness: pesticides that kill, fertilizers that emit greenhouse gases and nitrogen oxides which are 300 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.
– Vandana Shiva, PhD, ecofeminist and environmental activist in the anti-GMO movement, anti-globalization author of more than 20 books
What I was saying about climate change solutions, if you have an indigenous approach that looks at long history, that can tell time through kinship, then it’s clear that the current climate change crisis is not just caused by the increased concentrations of green house gases in the atmosphere, but is caused by the breakdown of kinship relationships that colonialism, racial capitalism, and other forms of power have brought us.
And so for us what needs to be repaired is that lack of kinship–– that makes it so that even climate change solutions commit inequities and injustice. So our experiences of climate change and the indigenous climate change movement, I would argue, is trying to repair kinship relations and understand that if you repair kinship relationships then we get the responsiveness that we need to deal with, in a coordinated fashion, the risk and dangers of climate change that are coming our way.
But it’s going to be a huge phenomenological change for us globally to really make this shift because perhaps the speed of kinship is slower than certain trends in the climate system that we know are going to create destabilizations in the climate that are going to pose certain risks and threats. That’s why I think we need a pretty big change in consciousness to fully address the issues we are facing with climate change now.
– Kyle Whyte, PhD, Professor of Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
Wisdom of trauma: Can our deepest pain be a doorway to healing?
MUST-SEE: More than 4 million people from 220 countries saw this film in just one week. It was recently broadcasted again and will probably continue to be featured every few weeks so sign up for notifications.
Sign up here: Wisdom of Trauma film
In it, Dr. Gabor Mate asks the million dollar question: Can we be human beings in the midst of civilization? Then drops Truth Bomb: Because what we call civilization demands the denial of human needs.
Why do we get disconnected? Because it’s too painful to be ourselves . . . until we are held in a space of love, fierce compassion, and radical acceptance of all of our feelings and parts and can start to reintegrate them fully.
I love that Gabor Mate addresses how our treatment, neglect, and exploitation of our authentic self parallels our treatment, neglect and exploitation of our Earth Mother. I will elaborate more how to work with elemental basics to deepen both our connection to earth and our true nature in my next article.