Paula Azevedo, PhD
Collective Grief for the Planet
As I write this post I sense a deep grief. This grief has been creeping up and building for the past few months, perhaps even years. And, I know that I am not the only one feeling distressed. I sense a collective grieving or a global mourning for our planet and all the inhabitants that live on her.
We are grieving for the massive fires in Australia that are impacting so many animals and people. We’re grieving for the loss of over 2 million acres of the Amazon Rainforest in 2019 due to excessive dry season and intensional setting of fires. Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans. We’re witnessing a mass extinction decreasing the biodiversity of our planet. There are larger and stronger storms and heat waves all linked to the increased global temperature.
We are witnessing the slow destruction of our planet and even though individuals do their best to decrease their own carbon footprint it is simply not enough.This type of crisis cannot be resolved by individuals. We’re grieving because few local and international leaders are willing to collaborate in order to save our only home. We know that this global crisis can only be resolved when all nations and international businesses collaborate.
I suppose we are also grieving because so many people are disconnected from other people and nature, but we are not separate from one another or from nature. We are all connected, even with the birds, fish, four legged animals, trees, plants, sky and water. We need each other to survive.
The cure to our disconnection from each other and nature is the practice of mindfulness and mindful action. Mindfulness brings a compassionate awareness to our habits of mind, physical bodies, emotions, and even our actions. Through mindfulness practice we can bring a loving awareness to our impact on the environment. “Ecological mindfulness” can perhaps help people become connected to nature and other people around the world. It can build a deeper understanding on the impacts of their own behaviors on distant communities and on the environment (Liu & Valente, 2018).
You can start by simply being in nature more often, and you don’t have to go too far to do this. Even in urban centers there are parks and trees. You can sit quietly in a park or under a tree and just listen to the sounds that come from around this one tree. You might notice that there are various types of birds that visit or nest in the tree. You may focus on the use of your five senses to fully experience that moment under the tree. Notice the different colors, feel the different textures, hear the life in and around the tree, taste the air, and smell the leaves. As the seasons change you may notice the subtle and dramatic changes that the tree makes. You’ll begin to know and connect with the tree and the inhabitants around it.
On weekends or summers you can walk on a local trail and practice mindful walking. On your walk you may come across different plants and animals. Perhaps even become curious about the various species and conduct additional research and learn about your local environment.
Through the years I’ve made it a habit to frequently walk on trails near my home and have encountered common birds that live in the suburbs, squirrels, but also vultures, peregrine falcons, snakes, turtles, deer, and foxes. Each time I encounter an animal that I don’t typically see I am so grateful for the gift and the lessons these animals give me. For instance, when I see a turtle it’s a good reminder to slow down. You may even begin to recognize the individual animals that visit your life each day.
Through this practice of being with nature and sense the connection and oneness between you and nature you may notice your awareness heightens. You may reevaluate your daily habits, such as paying attention to how much food you’re throwing away in your trash bin. You may think about what companies you want to support by purchasing food and other products from environmentally friendly farmers, ranchers and businesses. You may consider composting, growing a vegetable garden, educating your local community leaders, or starting a green project.
In the classroom you may consider incorporating environmental studies in your lessons and taking students on nature walks around the school’s neighborhood. It can even be as simple as conserving energy by turning one set of lights off, recycling paper, using less paper products, having plants in the classroom, having a composting bin the the cafeteria, having a pollinator friendly garden, and so much more.
We are not disconnected from nature as the western culture has taught us for centuries. We are a part of nature and there is evidence of this everywhere. We just have to be still enough to sense the connection to all living beings and the planet.