Is it possible to hold all the grief in the world and not get crushed by it?
I ask this question because our failure to deal with the collective and individual pain generated as a result of our destructive economic system is blocking us from reaching out for the solutions that can help us to find another direction.
Our decision to value above all else comfort, convenience and a superficial view of happiness, has led to feelings of disassociation and numbness and as a result we bury our grief deep within our subconscious.
The consequence is not only a compulsion to consume even more in an attempt to hide our guilt but also a projection of our hidden pain onto the world around us and at the deepest level, the Earth itself.
Just take the recent news from WWF and the Zoological Society of London that we have decimated half of all creatures across land, rivers and the seas over the past 40 years.
We read this and perhaps shake our heads in dismay, and then consume the next news story. The question we should all be asking is why aren’t we on the floor doubled up in pain at our capacity for industrial scale genocide of the world’s species.
The same is true of the human blood and tears that have flowed in continents such as Africa over hundreds of years as a result of our system of economic and cultural exploitation.
It’s time to stop searching for reasons why we are failing to act over the imminent dangers of climate change and other sustainability challenges.
The answer is obvious. We don’t need more scientific data or superficial behaviour change initiatives but to engage individuals at a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual level.
As the mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out: “It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.” In particular we need to grieve for the destruction we have wrought so that we have a chance to heal ourselves.
I have just experienced this by taking part in a moving grief ceremony conducted by indigenous people from Africa, North America, Latin America and Australia as part of a conference at Findhorn in Scotland, aimed at creating a narrative of how to transition to a new economy based on social and ecological justice.
The point of recalling the rape, pillage and desecration of communities as well as the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity is not to get stuck in anger and hopelessness, but to transcend them through the power of compassion and forgiveness.
Patricia McCabe from the Dineh Nation of New Mexico and Arizona, who helped lead the ceremony, says the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa set up in the wake of apartheid, and the justice and reconciliation process in Rwanda after the genocide, serve as proof that expressing grief can lead to a new beginning.
She says: “Humanity has developed a very deep ability to push devastating information about the impacts of our actions into our subconscious and this is a danger. We are numbing ourselves to this life going out.
“Expressing grief has always been a cathartic experience and a rebalancing mechanism, and I believe it is a part of building the foundation for any new story we might want to tell.”
McCabe believes the techniques used for helping people recover from shocks should be used more widely within communities. While indigenous peoples still suffer terribly from the impacts of past exploitation, McCabe says they can help the world because they still hold a deep and close connection to the land and because they understand the power of ceremony to create transformation.
“Many indigenous peoples have a pact with mother Earth that said we would hold on to the principles of thriving life, and that one day the world would turn back and come to us again,” she says. “To be ready for that, we must also go through our grief in order to truly be able to come back into alignment of our mind, body and spirit.”
This article first appeared in The Guardian Sustainable Business section under the name:
‘Grieving could offer a pathway out of a destructive economic system’