Re-Connecting to Our Environment As a First Step to Action
Ashlee Cunsolo and Neville Ellis, in a Conversation magazine article from last month, defined ecological grief as “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.” The layers of grief and stress run deep, and we would like to offer our community some resources for not only decreasing grief, but finding hope and motivation for action.
Esther recently attended a talk on climate justice at West Chester University by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. During her presentation, Robinson said that climate change is a man-made disaster calling for a feminist response. She went on to clarify that this is not about lifting up gender difference. Rather, we all live in a time when we need to dig deep within ourselves to find responses that innately align our human activity with the environment, instead of relying on the potential of technological innovation.
As the two of us discussed our own ecological grief, we were struck by the vital importance of cultivating an embodied connection with the environment. By this, we mean re-learning our connection to the many elements of nature (of which we are also a part). Rather than sinking into helplessness and fear, which can often leave us more disconnected, the call now is to feel our way fully into this connection.
When we are able to quiet the thinking mind, and start to feel our bodies, we can recognize that we are a part of the whole. It doesn’t mean we need to save our planet as something separate from ourselves, but rather focus on protecting our immediate environment, our home and all that we drink and eat for survival.
Our culture has taught us to feel less and think more, creating a greater divide between humans and the natural world. The intention to differentiate humans from our mammalian nature might have been to dominate animals and the environment for resources. We see the trouble that has caused, so we now ask, “As humans who are part of the natural world, how can we take better care of our home and all that we put into our bodies, so she will continue to take care of us in return?’ It is a relationship of equality, not dominance.
We do this through our bodies — the senses that awaken within as we take in the green sprouting all around us, the touch of bark on a favorite tree, or the sweet song of a bird. With our breath, we relish the smell of spring and the connection of our inhaling and exhaling to other beings. We listen for the rhythms of the earth that guide us — the rhythm of day and night, the seasons, the moon cycle, and life cycles of our own and other species.
A walk in the Wissahickon could be your practice in embodied connection. More connection to the natural world opens up a path for actions that nurture Mother Nature.
Esther Wyss-Flamm, PhD, E-RYT, is a mindfulness coach, yoga instructor, and member of the practitioner collective at the Healing Arts Studio in Chestnut Hill. She serves on the Weavers Way Board of Directors.