It’s advice many have heard and not known what to do with. It’s advice many have given without really knowing why they were saying it or what they meant by it, it just sounds vaguely helpful.
It is no joke—and no secret—that many of us are feeling depleted, tired, lonely, uncertain, hesitant, and many other feelings that suggest all is not right with us. I hear more and more often from people who feel they cannot speak what they believe regarding any number of topics because they are on the wrong side of a new orthodoxy. Many of us seem to need to move towards a form of healing but don’t know how, the symptoms are vague and the causes even vaguer. I want to argue for a helpful practice and also point out one of the causes (there are many more and they are connected to each other but I focus here on one because it is large and it is often kept far too quiet).
There are countless books on breathing and meditating and mindfulness. I know many people who love to update their Facebook status to make sure everyone knows they meditated today, how long they meditated, how many days in a row they meditated. For many of us it works like an analogy for sobriety; breathing as a new way of life, a turning away from the past and towards a new and brighter future. It is a helpful practice, just ask anyone who has tried it for more than a few days (hint: they are easy to spot because they start telling others about it).
I am a fan of breathing, I make a habit of it. I also try to get better at it through both careful spiritual practices and physical exertions. This past summer I tried to run on our fabulous sportsplex track despite the smoke warnings and the apocalyptic looking sun I got thisI told myselfI can run through anything. 5 repeats into the session and I was a wheezing, light-headed, bent over mess. I headed to my car, packed it in, gave up. Would have to wait for another day. It was humbling.
As I sit quietly the thought keeps recurring, more of a question really. Is there an analogy in this climate change based impact on my life with the difficulty many have in breathing fully these days? There is clearly a literal link when one considers the increased hospital visits etc. brought on by the smoke from the fires burning far away, but is there a spiritual link? What is the spiritual weight of climate change?
I think it was Bill McKibben (in The End of Nature) who argued that the day acid rain had touched every inch of the earth a profound change had to strike the mind of anyone paying attention. You see, our relationship to geography, climate, and place can no longer be understood as we adapt to it but it evolves by itself. No, as clearly as the Cod stocks on one coast had dwindled and the fires have grown in size and regularity on the other coast, we could change the very climate of our globe. This has implications for how we live, and think, and yes, breathe. We were not ready for this realization and yet we nevertheless have to grapple with it.
Living in British Columbia it seems like every day our news carries stories of fires, floods, salmon runs, sick orcas, diminishing populations of everything but people and microbes and catastrophes. This is a burden we all share. This isn’t describing grave challenges “over there where we expect violence and chaos and poverty” (never a good posture to take but we might as well be honest and admit that for many in our society the issues others face are blunted by space and time). This is right here, in our neighbourhoods, affecting our local streams and trees and lungs. I learned recently that high temperatures correlate with increased spousal abuse and increased strain on our first responders (supposedly heat equates with more irritated/angry men with shorter fuses, more drunk men…you can figure this out). My point is that this is something many of us ignore, supress, sweep under the rug, even though it is hitting us in the face. In my experience this form of evasion is unhealthy and unhelpful, it looks like the easiest path. It’s not. Like avoiding difficult conversations with your spouse or not fixing a tooth or changing the oil in your vehicle, it might be easy right now but it only leads to greater problems down the road.
It is easy to give ourselves excuses to not do what we know would be helpful, regarding the planet, climate change, and our own well-being. I do not accept the idea that we are special in this. We face unique challenges, but so did those who fought wars, and those who struggled to coax enough food from the land to eat.
I haven’t got a lot of answers, more sitting and breathing is required, I guess.
I am writing this to ask you to consider pondering the weight all this climate stuff might be putting on your shoulders (and the shoulders of those you love), refuse to look away from the personal pain (are you worried what sort of world you are leaving for your children and grandchildren?), personal responsibility (what blame/guilt do you carry when it comes to the environment?), and difficult questions we all know need answering (how do I come to terms with where my actions are part of the problem? What changes do I need to make in my life to feel less guilty?).
I don’t think pointing fingers is a helpful practice, instead, I invite you to sit down in some quiet corner and reflect on these questions for yourself. Do the research into the topics that you need to know more about. Be accountable, at least to yourself. And breathe. Doing so might help with much unrecognized malaise.