Community Forum: Wisdom for empowered action

By Richard Parker


Two meetings have been held in Bar Harbor this year to provide a forum for open and unfiltered conversation about climate disruption and global heating, to discuss what individuals can do, and to explore ways to reduce stress and anxiety living in times with such uncertainty.

Steve Runnings reworked Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief” into a theory of “Five Stages of Climate Grief.” Runnings identifies the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Many of the group members at the meetings said they usually find themselves in an acceptance stage, but revisit other stages of grief often. All agreed that acceptance does not mean resignation. Some noted that psychologists say everyone is affected by the stress associated with climate disruption, even those stuck on “denial.”

The status quo for the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, population growth and the unsustainable “growth economies” appear to be pointing toward big change.

It seems as though we are either headed into a great unraveling or collapse, or beginning a great turning toward a new way of living in harmony with nature. To be true to the responsibility to live and act in the positive polarity, with kindness for self, others and the Earth, humans needs to shift from feelings of being disempowered to empowered.

Empowerment comes from knowledge and taking action, so many ideas for positive action were discussed.

A “Mosaic of Practical Action” recently published by the Millennial Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford University lists several actions that are good places to start: Reduce your carbon footprint from all energy use, including travel; support and utilize renewable energy at every opportunity; support permaculture, buy local foods and reduce or eliminate the consumption of animal products in your diet; reduce the use of plastics; and be politically active in supporting candidates who understand the predicament and support renewables, clean water, reduced population and supporting efforts for the world to move away from “growth economies.”

Further conversation was devoted to some of the thinking of Professor Jem Bendell at the University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom, author of “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.” Bendell speaks about the “Four R’s: relinquishment, resilience, restoration and reconciliation.

Relinquishment has to do with what things can you let go of or reduce. This includes attempts to lessen consumption, reduce travel using fossil fuels, move from low lying coastal areas and floodplains, reducing reliance on coal, harmful industries, etc. Resilience can mean adopting new practices and new ways of thinking. Restoration means asking: “Which former practices and ways of thinking need to be resurrected?” These may include adopting wisdom from indigenous communities, practicing eating by the season and enjoying non-powered play and recreation and other community building activities. Reconciliation, attempts to communicate with all members of the community, even climate deniers, is sorely needed.

At both meetings, the group discussed how best to leave with a positive message. They were encouraged by the words of Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy, who founded The Work that Reconnects, an organization dedicated to helping communities address climate disruption.

Macy’s work encourages people to push beyond any perceived isolation from each other and from nature and to speak the truth in community. “Fall in love with uncertainty,” she advises. “Wake up as much as you can and help others awaken. Connect with nature and indigenous wisdom.”

The group added a few more ideas: Find as much joy each day as we can. Develop practices that help to center us and reduce stress, like meditation and yoga, being in nature, biking, kayaking, cross country skiing, etc.

And we can work on switching our mindsets from that of consumers to that of caretakers.

We are all here, at this special time in human history, called to face this predicament.

Those of us fortunate enough to live on Mount Desert Island have the amazing natural resources available to us for renewal and respect, as well as organizations like A Climate To Thrive that are working hard to address the challenges.

Like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, we persevere, despite the immense challenges ahead.

Richard Parker teaches yoga and meditation on a pro bono basis at Destination Health. He lives in Bar Harbor.

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