In his incredible documentary ‘2040’, Damon Gameau takes us on a journey of what the world could look like in the year 2040 if we were to fully implement all of the climate-saving technology that is already available and operational. He wanted to reimagine, with facts, what kind of world his daughter, Velvet, would inherit. Things like, adjusting our farming practices, using solar grids and energy-sharing, driverless cars, establishing kelp forests in the ocean (which sequester insane amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, as well as provide nutrient-dense food for livestock and humans, restore ocean habitats and can be also used for biofuel and bio plastics!) and making education more accessible to women in developing countries. But beyond these exciting and very achievable changes, another point he made greatly eased my heart: Acceptance and Forgiveness.
Damon reminds us we cannot escape being hypocrites when it comes to reducing our carbon-footprint, because today, it’s virtually impossible to exist without participating, in some way, in this system we have created. Every time we shop, drive, eat and drink, watch movies, and so on, we are engaging in and contributing to the unconscious patterns of a dysfunctional and unsustainable society. Of course, we can do our best to be as conscious as possible with our choices, but we simply cannot be perfect, as our choices, at this stage in our evolution, are compromised. And this is something we need to accept and make peace with as we transition into better regenerative and sustainable practices.
We cannot operate effectively, if at all, from guilt or fear. We are far better off accepting our short-comings, and as Damon encourages, focusing our energy on what we feel passionately about to create lasting change for good. For instance, if education is your thing, rather than beat yourself up about all the driving you do to get to school, you could instead focus on how you can explore and implement new practices in education that can have a positive long-term effect on people and the planet. And perhaps car-pool whenever possible. If you love getting your hands dirty or gathering with your community, instead of berating yourself over the fact you would struggle to give up eating meat, you could start a regular community tree-planting meet-up. And perhaps have a few vegetarian meals each week. Taking wise action without the self-criticism is the key.
Joanna Macy, ecophilosopher, scholar of Buddhism, and author of ‘Active Hope – How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy’ also speaks about Wise Action and the counter-productiveness of harbouring guilt and other negative feelings. She believes forgiving ourselves, reconnecting with our awe and gratitude for nature, and healing our grief for the world are imperative if we want to move forward and make healthy, positive, long-lasting change.
After watching the film I felt invigorated and more optimistic. Then I opened my facebook feed covered in frightening images of drought-stricken land, raging fires, cyclones, dried up rivers, uncharacteristically early snowfall, floods, bleached coral reefs and coal mining protests. I can’t help but feel utterly hopeless and lost. Ashamed and responsible. I am human, and I am part of this problem… what have we done?
I quickly spiralled downwards into the darkened depths of despair, grief, and utter powerlessness as tears rolled down my cheeks. Even though I try to do small things towards greater change in my everyday life, it feels useless when I look around at the millions of others walking this Earth with far less awareness and sometimes, it seems, even less consideration.
Before I know it, I’m numb and my fingers are lodged snugly in my proverbial ears, welcoming ignorance as I carry on like nothing’s the matter. There are no fires threatening my home and livelihood. There’s no plastic in the ocean where I swim. Each day I wake up, I can pretty well go about my life without the searingly obvious consequences of the global climate crisis… But somewhere, deep inside me, there is unease. Something is the matter. I know it and I can’t un-know it, no matter how hard I try.
My glazed eyes falls upon a friend’s beautiful post with her new-born; wonder and awe oozing from her loving gaze… and suddenly, I find myself asking – what kind of world is this precious child going to have when he’s older? And what about my own kids when I finally have them? How can I possibly burden them with this mess, not to mention burden the planet with more humans?
I stare at this sweet child’s face, in its infinite ability for love. I feel amazed and yet, somehow, I am simultaneously resentful of our species… until I realise hating us is only breaking my heart more. Hating us is also hating myself. And I can’t possibly begin to do good in the world if I’m consumed by my own disgust.
Healing Our Pain for the World
I recently participated in an insight meditation and creativity retreat where the teachings were largely drawn from Joanna Macy’s work and book. We stayed for one week on a stunning property, and daily immersion in the nature that surrounded us, as well as silence, stillness, slowing down, and disconnecting from technology did wonders for instilling gratitude and awe for this incredible Earth that we call our home. This is the first step in her process.
The next step is honouring and transforming our grief for the world. We did this with a simple writing exercise, and in all honesty, I was surprised by the outcome…
Joanna lists four main negative emotions that one may experience in relation to the global climate crisis. We were asked to choose the most prominent one for each of us at that time (even though most of us felt several, if not all of them simultaneously.) They were:
We were then asked to sit with our chosen feeling and write about it for approximately twenty minutes.
My feeling was despair. As the words streamed onto my page, I noticed while this despair was certainly visceral–my body felt heavy and drained of all energy–what I was writing felt somewhat contrived. As though I was indulging in stories I knew somewhere, deep down, were not actually true. Stories like–what hope is left?! How can little old me possibly make a difference?! How can I bring children into this world?! Interestingly, these thoughts felt like excuses to remain powerless and inert. Excuses to leave it in the ‘too hard basket.’
Next, our teacher revealed the opposing feelings for each of these emotions, and we were asked to sit with, and write about, the positive counterpart. They were:
FEAR – COURAGE
ANGER – DETERMINATION
GRIEF – LOVE
DESPAIR – EMPOWERMENT / WISE ACTION
My body immediately lifted. I felt a certain grace and energy awaken from deep within. And I wrote. I wrote about the mind-blowingly meager 3.5% of the human population being all that is needed to bring about change. I wrote about the inspiring work I see happening across the globe, in my community, and in individuals all around me. I wrote about the fact I work for an amazing, value-driven organisation which gives me a voice to speak on matters that mean something to me. I wrote about the excitement and love that was growing stronger inside me; a love for this planet, the different creatures that dwell on it, and my human family, in all our imperfections. A love to remind me that children will be a part of my life if that is to be my journey, and that they too are a part of this transformation (just look at all the incredible youth out there leading the way!). A love to remind me what I have to offer the world is unique and valuable in its own right. And a love to remind me that while I am but one small part of a much larger whole, I am still one, and that is a worthy enough cause to move forward on this mission for the greater good of all the parts, and the whole.
Suddenly, nothing else seemed important… I could not wait to get started. Through this process, I had naturally come into a state of what is referred to in Buddhism as Bodhichitta – the desire and intention to act for the sake of all beings.
When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world. – Joanna Macy
Bodhichitta and Active Hope
What would it be like to live without (conventional) hope?
Joanna Macy says there are two different sides of hope, one that does not serve us and one that does. The first is the hopefulness we feel when we believe an outcome is likely to happen. This is a passive kind of hope and is not sustainable. When we feel hopefulness because we are confident we can expect a certain outcome, there is always the possibility of hopelessness because of the expectation we are clinging to. As a result, we are quickly disheartened and drained when the outcome is not as we’d predicted.
‘Active hope’ on the other hand, refers to the kind of hope that’s tied with our dreams and desires. It’s the hope that activates and motivates us to do what we feel passionately about, without an attachment to the outcome. We do it rather than have it. It is guided by intention, rather than the passive waiting for external circumstances to deliver what we desire. It’s focussing on and being guided by our intentions, rather than waiting for external circumstances to make us feel hopeful before we take action.
It’s creating hope instead of waiting for it.
On her website, there is a poignant story that demonstrates both active hope and bodhichitta quite beautifully:
“When Joanna was in Tibet, she received an important teaching about the power of intention from watching the monks rebuild the monastery of Khampagar. Once a major center of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning, it had been destroyed by the Red Guards during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. A shift to a more relaxed occupation policy had allowed reconstruction to begin. This policy, however, could be reversed at any moment; there was no guarantee that the monastery, once rebuilt, would not be destroyed again.
That didn’t stop the monks. They faced the uncertainty by bringing to it their intention. They assumed that since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will be built. You persist. In the long run, it is persistence that shapes the future.”
Going Forth with Heart
With my newfound tools of active hope and bodhichitta, as well as a healed heart and fresh eyes, I feel ready to step forward with my sharpened sword of intention. Solid and strong in will to begin carving out a world I know, in my heart of hearts, to be right and good. A world that may or may not bear the fruits of my dreams in my lifetime, but one I will strive for anyway. For you, for me, for our children, and for our precious human family.
There is no way to peace, peace is the way. – A. J. Muste
What changes are you passionate about and what wise actions do you feel compelled to take? Please tell us in the comments below! And if you want to try the exercise above for yourself, or to watch the documentary 2040, we’d love to hear about your experiences.
Much love, forgiveness and active hope to you all,