Watching bumblebees plunder the garden’s snapdragons, I think of how the magic web of life is unraveling. It’s coming, and it’s here, environmental collapse on a systemic and unfathomably vast scale.
This past year has seen a grim torrent of information about the seemingly inexorable damage we’re doing to the earth. The picture coming into focus is bleak indeed: Insect communities collapsing around the world. Oceans warming 40% faster than previously thought. Ice loss in Antarctica proceeding at a terrifying pace.
That the bird population in North America has been reduced by nearly 30 percent in my lifetime is unfathomable. And this heart-wrenchingly deep 3-minute video, possibly the wisest thing I’ve heard on global warming.
Ayahuasca is spreading around the globe with astonishing rapidity in order to wake people up, before it’s too late. This is what many working with the plant believe. Many describe how ayahuasca reawakened their feeling of connection with the earth, Pachamama. Some report receiving visions of the dying-off of animals, and people; drought and famine, fires burning out of control. The suffering of the planet, and intimations of even harder times to come.
With ayahuasca, I sometimes feel the pain of the earth as it’s abused, fracked and mined, clear-cut and paved over. I feel the earth’s endless bounty, her ever-flowing giving, and the contrast with the senseless, heedless disconnection of modern life that refuses to even acknowledge the planet as alive and sentient.
I feel a hint of the fear. The terror that awaits, the bigness of the changes to come. But it’s hard to take this in this fully, because it’s just so big.
Cocoon of Denial
The destructive impact of modern life is heartbreaking on a massive scale, becoming more so every day. The cascade of stories forces me to confront the grief, the shock, the horror of environmental collapse.
Like many of us I’ve been locked in denial of exactly how big this is, what’s coming down. I reassure myself with memories of roaming across the Tibetan Plateau, immersed in the vast, serene emptiness of nature; or I head out the door and hike alongside a pristine Andean stream. I’ve been living in denial, fed by memories of the past and hiding out in seclusion in the present. Avoiding.
But the glaciers are receding, the earth is warming, the weather patterns are disrupted, and the powerful are ruthlessly proceeding full speed ahead on the path of destruction.
So when I go beneath the surface and open up my cocoon of denial, I recognise that I’m feeling grief. Sorrow at the irrevocable losses happening all around. Anger at the unthinking ignorance that perpetuates this. Helplessness at the massive scale, and frustration at being trapped in in this destructive web.
It’s painful, so painful when I let myself feel even a fragment of these overwhelming emotions. Frankly, it’s terrifying. It’s easier to be numb. That’s part of the self-protection, I’m realising. The fear of being overwhelmed by these emotions causes us to block them out—and this prevents us from feeling what could inspire us to take action.
On Human Extinction
As I was beginning this post months ago, a new client showed up, a man who told me ayahuasca had given him the mission of writing about human extinction. This daunting assignment was driven by grim visions he’d been receiving in and out of ceremony. He’d found it paradoxically felt better to lean into it. “If I write about the ghosts, I’m less haunted by them,” he said.
He talked about the brutal nature of what he was seeing; the fragility of our species, the horror of what we’re doing. The death, the destruction, all the worst things—he was being told to write about it all.
Honestly sensing our true feelings is always how things begin to change.
I shared with him my sense that this was perhaps an act of service for the collective, a way of channeling messages with transpersonal impact and meaning. Just as I’d do with a therapy client who came into the office reporting dreams of such urgency and darkness, I encouraged him to keep exploring deeply, opening to the messages, loving them. Most of all, feeling them, because it’s in our emotions that the seeds of change are carried.
It seems to me it’s part of our collective homework to turn and face the devastation that we’re causing. The first answer for “What I can do for our species/the planet?” is: Face your fears. Stop avoiding. Honestly meet the worst, and attempt to imagine it, envision it, admit it. And then: Open your heart to it, to the grief. The rage. The fear. The terror. Feel it all, deeply.
As a therapist, I know that genuinely sensing our true feelings is always how things begin to change in the individual human psyche. I can only imagine it works at the collective level as well.
Beauty and Grief
This era feels like a giant crack in history—a turning point between the ages. To be incarnated on this planet at this time is special in some perhaps terrible, tragic way. Being alive now brings the immense responsibility to upgrade our consciousness. We’re on the cusp of massive changes, like it or not. What kind of change is coming is up to us.
Dealing with global warming requires an enormous shift in our understanding of ourselves, nature, the world. We’re not going to succeed by playing the same old game. Hating the haters, judging the judgers doesn’t work. Waging war against those who wage war on the environment simply falls into the same trap, reifies the same failing mindset. I like what Charles Eisenstein says: “Climate change is calling us to a deeper kind of revolution, a different kind of revolution, a revolution that will be unstoppable.”
Climate change is demanding a new kind of response. We can’t exclusively techologise our way out of this (though that has its place)—we have to feel. When we really take this in to our depths, then an aligned and powerful response becomes possible. This comes from truly opening to the beauty of creation, and the grief at its fragility: jellyfish and hummingbird, elephant’s eye and condor’s wing, jackfruit and stargazer lilies.
Ayahuasca, plant medicine, is playing these notes in people around the world, opening us up to the beauty and the grief that we need to feel. It’s acting as a sort of planetary therapist, turning our eyes inwards to what’s really happening, sending us visions of devastation and depletion, the Earth in pain from human depredations. Making us face reality with bone-deep understandings of how this planet is suffering.
I love the story Gail Bradbrook tells, about how she worked with iboga and ayahuasca, asking specifically for “the codes for social change,” crucial information she needed on how to organize a successful movement. Shortly after her ceremonies, she met Roger Hallam, who at the end of their first conversation joked, “I’ve just given you the codes for social change.” They went on to found Extinction Rebellion, the global environmental movement harnessing civil disobedience to protest climate breakdown.
Bradbrook says, “Grief is an essential part of this process because there’s something about grieving that opens the space for love, which opens the space for courage—and courage will be essential in this struggle against climate change.”
May we have the courage to feel our grief.
If you want to go further, here are a few brilliant directions:
Eve Enseler’s fierce, plaintive Apology to the Earth.
Charles Eisenstein’s oh-so-clear book Climate: A New Story.
And that three-minute video clip I mentioned at the beginning—here it is again.