Emotions are a vital way of staying in touch with our planet and each other. If we were to let ourselves feel the pain of oppressing other living beings, or the horror of pillaging our ecosystems, we would likely not ignore all of the damage we are causing. Moreover, if we stopped minimizing the power of human connection and the beauty of our planet, perhaps money and greed would have less sway over us compared to the wealth of life itself.
In living this way, we don’t recognize the immense strength we can build through feeling and sharing our pain, which environmental activist Joanna Macy has been proving for 40 years through The Work That Reconnects[ii]. We suppress anger and frustration, key emotions to instigating change. Our tireless pursuit of material happiness and economic growth has us exploiting Earth’s resources and each other, rather than experiencing more sustainable sources of fulfillment, like love, movement/rest, trust, beauty, expression (all of which, mind you, don’t have a very large carbon footprint)…
[i] From Poetry is Not a Luxury by Audre Lorde in “Sister Outsider”, 1984. Ten Speed Press.
[ii]From “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” by J. Macy and C. Johnstone, 2012. New World Library.
[iii] From “Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future” by David Grinspoon, 2016, p. 2. Grand Central Publishing.
[iv] From “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” by A. Brown, 2017, p. 10. AK Press.
Society, however, has taught us to numb. We learn that the only emotion worth feeling is happiness, which we obtain by material wealth. We learn that anger is rude, that pain, grief or shame may indicate failure or “get in the way” of our success. That while happiness is the end goal, pleasure should not be sacrificed for productivity, and that while play and curiosity are fun, they are not essential. Powerful bonds like love and spirituality are viewed as personal or insular experiences, not vital to our global operations. As Audre Lorde, Black lesbian feminist & poet, describes in her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury”,
“…for within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjunct or pleasant pastimes, feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men.” [i]
Emotions are a form of evolutionary intelligence. A sixth sense. Just as we see, touch, hear, taste, and smell, we feel. In order to properly mobilize around the climate crisis, we must become fluent in this language again. Doing so will not only make us smarter, but also help us build stronger communities bound by trust and understanding. As adrienne maree brown describes, “the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic.”[iv]
So let yourself feel your pain, your fear, your uncertainty, your shame. Your joy, your love, your hope. Share them with others. It is natural. It is necessary. As Joanna Macy said to me, “all people want is to tell the truth.” Our feelings are not ominous clouds hanging over our heads – they are veins, running from one body to another, circulating energy amongst our individual beings, fusing humanity into a larger force. They give us an armor of empathy, the power to fight for and with our fellow forms of life. Let’s awaken this force, within ourselves and across the planet.
We muffle endless cries for justice from oppressed people throughout the world, preventing us from fighting for our most primal family on this planet. We neglect the innovative potential of play and curiosity, which have birthed some of our greatest scientific discoveries to date (we would not understand climate change, for instance, if not for our “seemingly impractical” explorations of space and other planets[iii]). Many quickly judge religion as naive in light of science, cutting our environmental communities off from spirituality’s incredible connective and mobilizing capacity. And preoccupied with all this pretending – with success, perfection, beauty, wealth – we only show ourselves to a few. We only love a few. Our capacity to connect to other living beings, as members of Earth’s remarkable network of life, is largely untapped.