It had been a challenging holiday break. Despite our joy for all being united again after several weeks, a certain heaviness remained in the air amongst the UPLIFT team. Mixed emotions of the Christmas chaos, the fun, the cheer, the gratitude for an occasion to come together, laced with the inescapable smog of destruction. There was an elephant in the room. In every Australian’s room in fact. It’s smouldering presence followed each of us around as our country was ablaze, its inhabitants grieving in both our minds and hearts.
As we did our routine round of ‘check-ins’, holding space for each other as we each shared how we were feeling, the elephant slowly snuck its way into the centre of the circle. We relayed the events of our individual holidays, and each was, in one way or another, imbued with the effects of the merciless fires that had, and still were, cutting through the land. Towns were being evacuated, thousands of people and animals displaced. Ancient forests now fierce infernos. Livelihoods lost. Diminishing water supplies, and no rain in sight to quench this drought-stricken land, let alone extinguish any flames.
We all felt the grief in our hearts. The pain. The guilt. The panic. As humans, we knew we were part of the problem, yet we had no idea how to even begin fixing it.
At this point in our gatherings, we would normally launch into creative writing exercises and share in the joy and inspiration of tapping into our flow and individual expressions. But today, it all felt trivial. Unfair even, to be those lucky ones who still had homes, jobs, and normal lives. Doing creative writing exercises just didn’t seem right.
So, we wrote about what came up for us in relation to the fires. We swallowed hard and turned our gazes toward the elephant before us and we gave it a voice.
After a few minutes, we each shared our words and a collective nod of understanding was offered as the elephant took form before us. We sat in silence, honouring our collective grief. As I reflected on the depth of pain in my heart – as well as that of my colleagues – for all the people, the wildlife and the ecosystems sacrificed and the rest still suffering, the collective field was suddenly undeniable. Everyone everywhere was affected. The sadness was palpable. Australians were grieving for Australia.
With little else to do, we picked up our pens again and wrote. This time we focussed on what we were grateful for in our lives. Mine went a little like this:
“Safety from the fires. My home. My job. Loved ones. A bed to sleep in. Food in the fridge. Money in my wallet. A loving family. Community. To have access to education and healthcare. To have freedom of speech. To be able to provide and take care of myself. To choose how I want to live my life. To want to help others. Grateful for the desire to be the best possible version of myself.”
We wrapped up and I noticed a gentleness had crept in, enveloping my being with the comfort of a mother’s embrace. Cradled in the arms of Love. I exhaled, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was okay. We were okay. Everything would be okay. I looked around at my colleagues and knew I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
Finally, equipped again with only ink and a blank page, we set off with this newfound stillness in our hearts and wrote once more. This time, the theme was, ‘What can I do?’
There was the obvious – donate money. Offer help to friends and family repairing their lives. Spread the word on social media. But these were all short-term fixes and the long-term issue, the elephant, was quite blatantly staring us all in the face. I felt the urge to do more…
“I will use the Earth’s resources more responsibly. Take shorter showers. Use lights and air-conditioning only when really necessary. Eat less meat. Car-pool and bike-ride more. Buy from bulk-food stores. Offset flight carbon emissions. Buy local. Volunteer for community tree-planting. Upcycle, reuse, recycle, share…” I stopped.
I could feel this narrative forging forward into ‘perfectionist’ territory. A state of mind I was quite familiar with, and one that has been known to keep me inert due to overwhelming hopelessness. “If I’m not perfect, I’m not good enough”. This deep-seated belief of mine had taken many, many years to even begin to dismantle.
I observed my ‘must do this’ and ‘must do that ’list, my proverbial self-flagellation cane looming, and suddenly a quote I’d recently heard came to my rescue:
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. – Anne-Marie Bonneau (Zero Waste Chef)
Relief washed over me again as the feeling of a motherly embrace reminded me once more of my innately perfect imperfections. “Just do your best”, she whispered.
I took a breath and placed pen to paper again … “I will accept that I can’t live perfectly. That I simply cannot exist in this modern world without having some kind of carbon footprint (as much as I may try). I will accept and remember imperfect commitments to changing the way I exist is a far healthier, more effective and more sustainable use of my time and energy. I will do my best when I can, and I will be kind to myself in the times I cannot. I will not judge others for their choices. I will hold myself accountable only for my own choices. I will live Love … for myself and for this magnificent Earth.
And I will trust that this is enough.”
We put our pens down and shared our writing; diving deep into a discussion, a reflection on this healing journey. In this short time, we had collectively scribbled our way through our individual processes of grief and despair, returning again to hope, faith and serenity, finally completing the cycle empowered and ready to step up again.
We had restored inner balance within ourselves and our circle again, and now, we felt ready to step forth and project this collective prayer for balance out across our scorched yet resilient and beautiful land.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Have you ever used writing as a way to process your feelings? What was your experience? It can be such a powerful way to shift your mental and emotional state! We encourage you to try it for yourself if you feel called. We would also love to hear what it was like for you in the comments below.
With the unconditional love of the great Mother, we wish you hope and resilience.
Not quite sure how much it relates but the quote and the subject of doing your best reminded me of this quote: “If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way.” Can’t recall the author. As far as writing’s relation to mental health goes, I’ve been doing this thing I, myself, call ‘The Journal of Gratitude’. It’s not at all my own idea, I’ve read about it from several pages. Every night before bed I write down at least 3 things that either happened to me, because of me or beside me, and made me feel grateful. But I like to think of them as just 3 good things. On some nights I write more. On some nights it’s jotting down, on others it’s proper reflecting and focusing on language. And it’s not creative writing. But I always go to bed with a full heart. And when the day leaves me feeling rather down, the writing doesn’t necessarily make me not feel everything I feel. It just changes something inside. And on every tomorrow I notice somthing fulfilling during the day that I wouldn’t have, hadn’t I reflected on it a night or two ago.
I’ve been using my writing as a healing process. I’ve used poetry in a form of liberating my voice.
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. – Anne-Marie Bonneau (Zero Waste Chef) and the narrative around it was what grabbed me in this article. Thank you for this whole article. Australia and New Zealand are on my bucket list to visit. I hope the healing rains will arrive for all the areas needing them.
Thank you for that wondeful article! It moved me to tears. I live on the other side of the world from Australia but what has happened there (is still happening) could happen anywhere. We are a Global Community and what takes place in one part of the world will affect us all. Why Australia? Who knows? But we must all work towards becoming more conscious of what we do and understand that every little change we make in our lifestyle counts. We are all responsible. I send Prayers and Healing to Australia and to the World.
Years ago I led “Deep Ecology” workshops based on the work of Joanna Macy. The subtitle of her program was
“From despair to empowerment”, and that’s what I was reminded of and saw reflected in the writing and sharing exercise you have shared. Thank you. We are all with you in support.
Your words calmed me after a stressful time at work today. I use journaling myself regularly. I lost my daughter 4 years in February, she died of a brain tumour. I have been devastated and find life so hard. I do yoga, mindfulness and journaling to help me cope. Sometimes I am so scared of the future, the thought that I won’t see or speak to her again. She was my only child and passes away at the age of 38 after battling cancer for ten years.