Talk is cheap: effortless practice is the way
First, a word of thanks: I owe David Christie, philosopher and activist, a debt of gratitude for sharing the ideas that I’ve adopted for this article.
It might not sound relaxing to write about how to respond to climate change, but talk is cheap. Practice is the way and I’m suggesting you practice: HEAT, which requires lying down somewhere quiet and visualising. So, get a pen, read through, prepare to use the ideas to help you relax, visualise the way you’re changing, and chill…
You may have been asked what you’re doing about the ecological, biodiversity crisis, or climate change. You may be aware of rising seas, pollution, growing wealth inequality and an accompanying fragmentation of human society. You may also notice the growing epidemic in mental health and addiction.
Don’t just do something, sit there
What that has to do with chilling is not at first obvious. Silvia Borstein says, don’t just do something, sit there, and that is the first connection. Dealing with your own issues has everything to do with dealing with planet-wide, society-wide, community-wide, or relationship-related fragmentation. It just might need you to connect the dots. The best way to do that is to relax.
Like lots of issues we have to confront, there’s a paradox here. It’s effortless to relax, and focus on your breathing, but it takes a huge effort to create enough space to allow yourself this effortless practice. Sometimes, of course, things intervene and you find yourself knocked back. Then you have time. But mostly we keep rushing away from this moment because being here seems so tough.
You can’t avoid the void
Many people meditate, or practice yoga, or do body scans or visualise themselves in a situation very different from their current one because they want to get away from the nature of their reality. Oliver Burkeman who wrote 4000 Weeks (the average length of a human life in the global north) said that actually, until we fully confront the nature of our own reality, we will not be able to deal with what we have to deal with. We need to confront reality because this is where we are. This is what we need to deal with.
And practising this confrontation, practising actually feeling what we feel, with everything that is going on, is a good thing. Because we know we’re alive, and present to what’s going on. And because by being present to what’s going on rather than attempting to escape it or get away from it is living, and it’s also dealing with being alive. It’s dealing with stress, trauma, anger, grief and boredom as well as really feeling the joy, excitement, curiosity and love of life.
Being with it is a practice of being with it without being overwhelmed. Being with it and just knowing that this is not over until it’s over, that life is one thing after another and that it will fill us to overflowing to actually feel. It will sensitise us, but it will also give us the realisation that by feeling what is going on, we are engaging with it, rather than avoiding it.
Facing up to reality will make you stronger
It is tough, no doubt. But escapism never really escapes anything. It’s just using the tools of avoidance, or blocking, or distracting, which themselves create patterns that draw us into suffering. By being present, none of what’s going on will go away, but we will get much, much better at dealing with it. And guess what? We’ll also get better at dealing with climate change and the ecological emergency. After all, these are just aspects of our relationships. We’re interrelated with everything. When you consider your breathing for a moment, you’ll instantly realise that this is true.
There is a strong connection between confronting reality and confronting climate change or the ecological emergency. Being with it is a huge first step. Being with it and then visualising ways to be with it in ways that are more effective is the path to freedom.
Just be where you are
Being with addiction, anger, grief, gives us an opportunity to consider how we can be with these huge and sometimes overwhelming feelings, and habits in a way that is kindest to ourselves. To see how we want to be with them, we can use a little trick that yoga shows us in the yoga nidra practice: we can use our ability to watch ourselves, and we can visualise. We can visualise ourselves dealing with climate change and the ecological emergency. We just need to approach this the same way we approach chilling out: one breath at a time.
Once we have decided that this is the task — that we’re going to take on effortless awareness as a way of life — all we need to do is find one small change we feel we can make.
What’s your character?
To do this, we need to decide on what kind of character we have, so we make the kinds of changes that sit best with our personality. Since we’re in the wilderness when it comes to climate change, way out in uncharted territory, let’s think of the three character categories as being out in the wilds too.
First, there’s the settler. This character aims for a future vision that is as far as possible comfortably like today, that enables us to keep our traditions intact, and ensures that no unnecessary risks are taken.
If we’re a prospector, though, the future reflects our idea of how our peers are likely to be living, and it allows us to consider having fun, and being successful, and having what we need to live.
If we’re a pioneer, our future vision allows for significant technological and ecological changes. Things might be radically different, but natural systems still sustain themselves, and us, and we are still able to value what we value.
What’s your vision?
Once we’ve decided on what kind of character we are, we have an idea of the extent of the changes we can visualise, which will vary according to our personality. There is no one size fits all, and we’re getting comfortable with that. We can then look at the areas in our lives that climate change affects. Since this includes almost everything, we might decide to categorise these, too.
We might think about food. We might decide there’s something we can do to change how we source our food, so what we eat better reflects our desire to cut down on food miles, or cut down on inhumanely farmed meat or the depletion of wild fish. We might decide to grow some of our own food, if we have access to a garden. We might decide to look into a community garden, or an allotment. We might do something symbolic, like just grow mustard and cress, and yet we’re making a tiny step towards understanding the link between growing and food. Or we might do something quite radical like go for zero waste, or buying only food grown within 100 miles.
We might think about clothing. Some options might be to do with washing clothes only in cool water, to save on energy, or limiting the number of clothes we buy over the next year, or buying only from charity shops, or avoiding synthetic materials.
We might think about energy use, and using public transport or a bicycle, or even just walking more, if that’s an option, or using less energy in the home, cutting the use of air conditioners, or cutting down on the amount of data we use, by clearing out our photos, or even educating ourselves about data centres.
These three categories offer a huge range of options and we can come up with any number of others. What about nature around us, and rewilding, educating ourselves on local plants and animals, joining an NGO, lobbying governments for conserving areas close to us.
Spend a moment jotting down a couple of ideas now
Now to apply a little HEAT
H is for Hope. A vision for the future is hopeful. Let’s consider the link between this and our sankalpa, a resolution stated in the present tense, personal and positive. Let’s visualise ourselves as this person now. I am … at peace with zero waste … content with my gardening skills … glad to be a member of a local NGO … humbly learning about all local species … a warrior, not a worrier, writing about climate change …
E is for an Evaluation of our approach. We want to make sure that what we’re doing is what we want to do, that it’s Desirable. There has to be an upside for us. New skills, new friends, new interests, new levels of fitness. It also has to be Viable. We need to know that we can do this, that we haven’t set ourselves a task that’s too expensive, too time consuming, or too overwhelming emotionally. DV also means God Willing, Deus Volans: it has to go with the flow.
A is for Action. We need to start. Now. Yoga is Action. Meditation is Action. And a sankalpa is an action. Intentions pave the road to hell: I meant to do it, but I never got round to it. Act now. Right away. This starts today.
Finally, T is for tell! Tell people what you’re doing. Tell people the good bits and the hard bits. Tell people what worked and what didn’t work, and how you’ve succeeded, and how you’ve failed. To fail is human. People appreciate a good story. If you don’t feel comfortable telling your story in words, find another medium. Draw, or photograph, sing a song, make up a dance. Telling is also learning. We’re on the way from acquiring knowledge, to living wisely, and to do this we need to create networks, so we can learn from one another.