Chelsea Pulliam, Somatic.Earth
The Northcoast Environmental Center is asking for community submissions. We want to see the future you desire for our planet! We’re accepting all mediums including articles, poems, stories, journal entries, creative writing, art, videos, audio clips, photos, etc. The deadline to submit these works is December 31, 2023. We want to celebrate the new year with your creations.
Can We Imagine a Better Future?
Reimagining a better world for ourselves can be difficult. Many of us are feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, and buried by the weight of eco-grief and climate anxiety. Every time we check the news we hear about another terrible thing happening on our planet. How can we envision a better future when things often feel hopeless? Hopefully this article will be a helpful place to start. Here are some questions, exercises, and resources to get you started.
Before we direct our attention towards the future we need to first check-in with ourselves and honor the feelings of the present moment. Take a look at the dandelion in a spiral. This image is found in the book Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone as a symbol of what they call “The Work That Reconnects.” This spiral represents a journey of addressing eco-grief and working towards the future we want to build. Here are the four stages of the spiral:
- Coming from gratitude.
- Honoring our pain for the world.
- Seeing with new eyes.
- Going forth.
So we’re going to start with gratitude. What do you love about this world? Sink into this question. Spend at least 5 minutes thinking about this beautiful, vibrant, living world that we’re all a part of, and the life you get to live in it. Think about all of the amazing things worth saving. Starting in gratitude gives us the support we need for the next stage of honoring our pain.
“‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch. A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be – to be, And oh, to lose.” – Yehuda HaLevi, 12th century Spanish Jewish poet
When we think about what we love it’s natural to transition into grieving the things we have lost or fear to lose. In much of western society grief is considered taboo. It’s something that we’re taught to suppress or get over quickly. But honoring our pain is an important step in this journey. When we acknowledge our pain we are giving it the respect and recognition it deserves. Making space to listen to our sorrow, fear, outrage, and despair allows those feelings to complete their natural biochemical process in our bodies rather than getting trapped in our nervous systems. This stage can be difficult, so really give yourself the time and space needed. If you would like support, look for local eco-grief circles in your community. There are also embodied grief rituals that can help you more fully process this stage. The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller has some great resources on this topic.
The next stage of the spiral is seeing with new eyes. Our pain reveals the depth of our care and love. Recognizing our care and love as vital strengths renews our self-efficacy and also reminds us of our interconnectedness. This stage deepens our roots within the wider ecological world which can help direct our attention towards accessing the web of resources within our communities.
Finally we can step into our last stage of going forth, which includes our vision for the world and how we can take action to make that world a reality.
Often when we start thinking about the future we get caught up in detailed logistics and likely outcomes. This tendency can be very useful in certain situations, but it can also prevent us from fully envisioning our deepest desires and lead us to feeling stuck. Neuroscience research shows that the brain has two main networks: the Analytic Network and the Empathic Network. We use the Analytic Network to problem solve, make decisions, and focus. This is good for quick corrective actions and short-term fixes, but it doesn’t motivate us long-term. When the Analytic Network is turned on, the Empathic Network turns off, and vice versa.
When envisioning our futures we need to think and act long-term, which is where the Empathic Network comes in. It allows us to be open to new ideas, look for trends and patterns, be open to emotions, and address moral concerns. So for this next step we need to set down our SMART goals and allow ourselves to dream.
To begin envisioning our future, we need to be in a place of mindfulness, compassion, and hope. Ideally some of the exercises earlier in this article will help with that, but if you’re in need of additional support consider putting on a guided meditation, spending some quiet time in nature, or anything else that helps you find that state of mind.
Feeling mindful? Then let’s begin: I’m inviting you to use your imagination here, and to really step into and feel this situation. Let’s imagine that while you’re asleep tonight a miracle happens and the situation you most long for has become a reality. When you awake what do you notice around you that lets you know that the miracle has happened? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What might others see that would let them know the miracle happened? Who are you in this vision?
Allow yourself to spend some time in this vision. Paint a vivid image in your mind of the world you’d most like to see. Allow yourself to savor the dreams that surface and any feelings that arise. Let this dream nourish your nervous system and take root.
If you’d like to take this vision and begin forming it into something more concrete, consider using Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Climate Action venn diagram exercise at www.ayanaelizabeth.com/climatevenn
We are excited to see what you envision for our world. If you create anything from this process we would love to feature it in EcoNews and on our social media. Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring them to our office in Arcata.