Is it possible to hold all the grief in the world and not get crushed by it? (Joanna Macy)

To reframe what we’ve generally  been told about mental anguish and suffering by the mental illness system is a very important part of healing. Psychiatry makes out that the individual is sick. A much more honest as well as empowering way to view much mental anguish is to see ourselves as part of the web of life. Our despair is telling us something very real and valid. We should listen to it and pay attention and learn. Feeling pain is not a weakness, it is a capacity. We can learn to let it fuel us rather than cripple us.

From the Guardian a few days ago an article on the planetary crisis:

Grieving could offer a pathway out of a destructive economic system

More scientific data and superficial behaviour change initiatives won’t help, people need to be engaged at a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual level

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. (read more)

Yes, indeed why are we not all despairing in pain?  Isn’t it possible to consider that the people who are in despair maybe more in tune with the crisis we human beings are now facing on this planet? Indeed and yet many such folk get pathologized.

The above makes me think of the work of Joanna Macy too:

On Staying Sane in a Suicidal Culture

“All you can know is you’re allegiance to life and your intention to serve it in this moment that we are given.”

I love Joanna Macy. She is one of my favorite human beings on the planet and understands the critical juncture we are at and hints at how those of us who are sensitive may feel this more than others. Canaries in coal mines you might say.

An excerpt from an article on Truth Out:

jannaMacy believes nothing short of a radical shift in consciousness is mandatory.

“What I’m witnessing is that this uncertainty is a great liberating gift to the psyche and the spirit,” she said. “It’s walking the razor’s edge of the sacred moment where you don’t know, you can’t count on, and comfort yourself with any sure hope. All you can know is your allegiance to life and your intention to serve it in this moment that we are given. In that sense, this radical uncertainty liberates your creativity and courage.”

Given that the planet has never been in such a state of chronic crisis, nor that humans have so starkly faced our own extinction, each of us must today find a way to cope, continue to function, and are called to evolve our ways of thinking and being.

Carl Jung warned that if humans didn’t evolve into a new planetary consciousness, we would, as a species, go extinct.

My experience showed me that if I had not evolved beyond my own war trauma, I, too, could well have become a statistic of some negative type. If for me it was indeed evolve or die, how can it not be thus as a species when we fathom the true gravity of crisis we call modern life?  (read the rest here)

Transforming despair

The below is an excerpt from an interview with Joanna Macy from Personal Transformations:


despairPersonal Transformation
: In our society, we talk about despair as if it is primarily a psychological matter, coming out of personal life. Your understanding is that despair also comes from a different source.

Joanna Macy: Yes. I learned, when I began to work with groups 20 years ago, that despair arose in relation to something larger than individuals, personal circumstances. There is a complex of strong feelings that I call ingredients of despair. One is fear about the future based on what we’re doing to each other and to our planet. Another is anger that we are knowingly wasting the world for those who come after us, destroying the legacy of our ancestors. Guilt and sorrow are in the complex. People in every walk of life, from every culture, feel grief over the condition of the world. Despair is this constellation of different feelings. One person may feel more fear or anger, another sorrow, and another guilt, but the common thread is a suffering on behalf of the world or, as I put it, feeling “pain for the world.”

In American culture, we are conditioned to try to keep a smiling face and remain chipper at all costs. A lack of optimism somehow indicates a lack of competence. Feelings of despair are treated reductionistically as a function of personal maladjustment. This doubles the burden individuals carry. Not only do they feel bad about their world, but they feel bad about feeling bad.

Feeling the pain of the world is not a weakness. This is God-given or, put another way, an aspect of our Buddha nature. This openness of heart that characterizes the caring individual is a function of maturity. Don’t ever apologize for the tears you shed on behalf of other beings. This is, in its essence, not craziness, but compassion. This capacity to speak out on behalf of others, because you have the right to, because you can suffer with them, is part of our spiritual nature.

PT: Realizing that despair comes out of compassion legitimizes what people feel and provides a context for addressing what they feel.

Joanna: It also provides a context for action. It transforms the pain that isolated them.

PT: How are we to relate to despair?

Joanna: We have to honor and own this pain for the world, recognizing it as a natural response to an unprecedented moment in history. We are part of a huge civilization, intricate in its technology and powerful in its institutions, that is destroying the very basis of life. When have people had this experience before in our history? We ask people to relate to what they experience with respect and compassion for themselves. They’re not just griping and grumping. It is absolutely shattering when we open our eyes and see that we are actually, in an accelerating fashion, destroying the future.

PT: As people take in the staggering enormity of what we’re faced with, how do you address their sense of being insignificant and feeling overwhelmed, as if what they do will make no difference?

Joanna: People fear that if they let despair in, they’ll be paralyzed because they are just one person. Paradoxically, by allowing ourselves to feel our pain for the world, we open ourselves up to the web of life, and we realize that we’re not alone. I think it’s a cardinal mistake to try to act alone. The myth of the rugged individual, riding as the Lone Ranger to save our society, is a sure recipe for going crazy. The response that is appropriate and that this work elicits is to grow a sense of solidarity with others and to elaborate a whole new sense of what our resources are and what our power is. (read the rest here)

So often we blame all the wrong things for our despair. Really, it’s all so very simple. Sadly and tragically simple. We need to wake up.

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters