Three embodied ways from Focusing that might help us face global crisis
Over the last few months and more so in the last few weeks - since the latest IPPC report on climate change was released, I have been reflecting and exploring the whole raft of responses and reactions, and feel ready to share a few learnings I hope might help. These are all rooted in the embodied practices of Focusing and Somatic Experiencing.
1. Turning compassionately towards that in us that turns away
Let's face it. The stakes are as high as they can be. We are quite literally facing the sixth mass extinction. Not just us but countless species and ecosystems are collapsing. And not just from climate change; habitat loss, deforestation, plastics in our oceans are closing in just as fast. If we carry on as we are, we will destroy our home for generations of beings to come. It feels huge, overwhelming and so understandably we turn away. To keep it personal, I turn away, I carry on with business as usual and hope someone else will sort it out... I distract myself, I numb myself. But wait.... here is a place that the practice of Focusing has helped. After some pausing and noticing, I realise it is a part of me turning away, like some inner protector that doesn't want me to feel... feel what exactly? What I found was landscapes of deep grief, terror and helplessness that were just underneath the surface. I'll come back to these in more detail later. So this protector part is not all of me, it is something in me that takes over to protect me. And it needs understanding and kindness too, especially if we have our own trauma histories we are trying to manage.
2. Making space for all the feelings
For me, Focusing creates a big welcoming space, where everything is welcome. Nothing is turned away. And that's lucky because what we are facing brings up big and often complex feelings. For me the two biggest things were grief and some kind of shock/terror. I'll address each of these in turn.
I can say without hesitation that it is breaking my heart to see what is happening to our world. Seeing the destruction from palm oil manufacture, the oceans filling with plastic, the unbelievable loss of biodiversity (we have lost 60% due to human actions) huge social inequality still after decades of "intervention". I can feel it now as I write this. An ocean of grief swishes about in my chest. It seems clear to me this grief is not mine exactly, though this body feels it. We feel the sorrows of the world. We feel them because we are intricately connected. Everything we eat, breath and drink is bound together in a web of connection, and when one part of that fabric is torn, we feel it. Just think of seeing an animal killed by the road, or seeing trees being cut down in your local woods, you feel it if you pay attention. I defy anyone to not feel in some way moved if we allow ourselves to connect. Recently I came across the work of Francis Weller in a deeply affecting interview with Charles Eisenstein. One of his main insights is that our grief needs a community to be processed. It was never meant to be dealt with alone. From a physiological and trauma perspective this makes so much sense - as mammals we need deep and safe connection to others for our well being. It became obvious to me that our loss of ways to express and receive grief in community and therefore our inability to welcome it inside of us is wreaking havoc. We stay numb and disconnected from a world that is literally unravelling in front of us. The prayer of grief is an essential act of honouring what is important to us. It is a prayer to interconnection. So finding a way to express and honour our grief is essential. And a partnership in Focusing is one way we can do this: here we are held in safe connection, without judgement or pressure. We can let what we feel be seen by us and them. An even stronger container can be found in community, through community grief tending circles, Something I hope to offer in time. Look out for them near you.
What about the terror and helplessness?
In my Focusing practice, I have met again and again, and felt it in my body, a place of shock. Memories surfaced of growing up in the seventies, under the shadow of nuclear war and what felt like a very possible end of the world. I remembered laying awake at night worrying what it would be like and imagining all the destruction. TV shows and movies vividly portrayed the horrors that lay ahead.
And here we are over 40 years later and I feel the same gripping fear in my body, the horror of it all comes back. Even writing this I feel a similar paralysis as I did in 1976. Wide eyes, shallow or almost still breathing. Let’s call this terror. I take my awareness to my broader body. my feet and breath more deeply. I move my fingers and toes, I look around (movement really helps to counteract the freeze) And I say to myself "something in me feels paralysed.... " phew... It is not all of me. Some young part of me is terrified. It can be very easy for the feelings of helplessness and immobility that are stirred when we hear the words "extinction" and "catastrophe" to get tangled with earlier unresolved trauma, that many of us carry in small and big ways. And remember that these responses are functions of the human nervous system and definitely not to be treated as some weakness in you, or pathologised. Fear and immobility so easily get stuck together. So if you notice anything like this... move a little, look around, tell a good friend what you are feeling. And try and sense it as part of you, not all of you. Your bigger body can be a container for this if we notice all of it. And be mindful of what you give attention to! We only need so much information about the crisis.
Strangely enough, after a grief ceremony I attended two weeks ago, I dreamt of a small animal awaking from deep shock and finally felt some of this immobility leave me. Without being aware of the shift, I think giving full space to my broken heartedness, kind of unfroze that place in me, or set the conditions for that to happen. A gift for sure.
And there is more of course, so many feelings and responses get stirred, things we don't even have words for, experiences we have never faced individually or collectively and Focusing is a beautiful practice to honour and give space to those. Connected to this is the realisation that I can't and should not face this alone. Finding others to share my fears and feelings has been a massive help. Even though many don't want to have the conversation, finding even one other that does is a start.
3. Navigating what is needed in response
What can I do? or we do? This question is on my mind and my friends minds a lot. I don't have an answer for you but your inner wisdom might. Your body with its sense of rightness knows what would feel right for you, in your situation. Focusing offers us a way of navigating this territory. Just to add here "right" may not be the same as comfortable! Speaking out is not comfortable, nor is bringing up an issue that so many people want to avoid! For me, this is very much a working edge. I can easily get overwhelmed by reading too many online articles and then feel like there is nothing I can do. I may want to save the world, but I can't, at least not alone.
What have I done? To begin with, I have sought out others who care. I have begun to school myself in nature connection and now grief work. I am slowly finding ways of expressing my feelings and values. I find I might have particular skills to offer this situation. In an inspiring TEDx talk by Mac Macartney, he encourages us that the transformation that is needed for our world, needs not just activists, but poets, artists and healers, anyone who is willing to turn towards the situation at hand. And It has been inspiring to remember that many huge changes we have seen in the last 100 years, such as the civil rights movement in the USA were begun with small groups of individuals. Small steps become a journey. Finding any small step keeps the process moving and works against the paralysis I spoke about earlier. They honour and give life to what we hold most dear, and from there perhaps amazing things might grow.
I hope those help.
A couple of events coming up on this theme are listed on my free online events page