We gather in a circle. A woven cloth is placed in the middle of the room, the carpet is declared a field of hope. In each of the four directions lies a ritual object: a stick representing anger; a stone representing fear; a pile of dried leaves representing sorrow; and a bowl representing despair or emptiness. The ritual begins with a simple chant, and we are each invited to enter the sacred space, to give voice to our feelings about the earth.
I go straight to the stick. My baseline is rage. I’m angry at all the people who sit on their fat asses and do nothing while the earth is being annihilated. I’m really fucking angry at all the dumbed down zombies who are so busy distracting themselves with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shops and technology toys, that they don’t even notice what’s happening in the world around them, let alone stand up and fight for ecological and social justice. Why the fuck isn’t everyone rising up and starting a revolution?? Isn’t anyone paying attention out there?! Doesn’t anyone fucking care??
I’m fucking furious at the fat corporate cats, the big bankers and investment firms, the government leaders, the military-industrial complex, the wealthy elite and all the other power mongers who continue to rape, pillage and plunder the planet, depleting resources, exploiting indigenous people and the poor, lining their greedy pockets with as much money as they can, with no respect for life other than their own.
I put the stick down. I think I’ve said enough. I pick up the stone. Fear. Whenever I drop into anger, I always fall into the fear.
I’m afraid that it’s too late, that basically we’re all fucked. That there’s nothing I can do to make a difference. That animal and plant species will continue to spiral down the extinction vortex; that our waters will continue to be diverted, dammed, and poisoned; that the forests will all be cleared. That the world will become one big toxic waste site. I’m afraid that everything I love will be wiped out by climate change, pollution, disease and disaster. I’m afraid for my son, for all the children. I’m afraid for their lives, for their suffering. I’m afraid that I’m not doing enough for them. I’m afraid that they won’t make it. That none of us will.
After a few minutes, my fear shifts into a well of deep sorrow, and so I move to the pile of dead leaves. I don’t have words for grief this deep. I let the tears rise and fall onto the leaves. My grief knows no bounds. It’s a bottomless pit. I grieve for all the horrors and abuses witnessed in my one lifetime, both personal and planetary, and for all the historical trauma that has come before. Ecocide. Genocide. Suicide.
Which brings me to the empty bowl, to despair. All I can do with my unending sadness is contemplate my own death. Suicide seems like the only sane option. One less mouth to feed, one less consumer, one less polluter. I share my feelings of emptiness. The utter hopelessness. The powerlessness. The black hole. The void.
Then I take a deep breath and go back to the outer circle, to sit with the others.
One by one we enter the center of the circle and express our feelings in our own way. Afterwards, we share what this ritual has moved in us. I feel lighter. Relieved. Less burdened. Energized. I feel more connected to the group, myself and the world. Having expressed my darkest feelings and been witnessed by a circle of people, I feel strangely joyful and alive.
This is the Work that Reconnects, a series of workshops facilitated in my community by my friend Constance Washburn. The work has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of ecophilosopher and activist, Joanna Macy, with whom Constance has studied.
Constance opened this workshop with a quote. When asked what we can do to heal the earth, the Vietnamese Zen master Thicht Nhat Hanh responded: “What we most need to do is hear within us the sounds of the earth crying.”
The Work that Reconnects enables us to give voice to the earth’s cries, and it transforms our lives in the process. Closing our minds and hearts to what is happening in the world because it is too painful, means that we also shut ourselves off from the love that motivates us to take positive and meaningful action on the earth’s behalf. Honoring our pain for the world breaks this spell, and unleashes our capacity for joy, gratitude and connection.
This work is simple and powerful. It’s not something you can read, or sit back and watch – you have to participate. These teachings are meant to be lived and embodied through you.
The Work that Reconnects is a deeply connective and restorative practice. It strengthens our resilience and ability to respond creatively to crisis. It guides us into a deeper and more authentic relationship with ourselves, each other and the natural world. And it provides a set of tools with which we can repair and transform our communities, so we can begin to build a culture that honors and respects all of life on earth.
This work has never been needed more than now.