Have you ever heard the German word “Waldeinsamkeit”? There is no direct translation, but it roughly means the feeling associated with solitude among trees.
This may be a sort of Rorschach test, but to me that sounds like a delightful, peaceful feeling. I have taken a lot of comfort in the stability of the earth - the fact that mountains will never move; birds will always somehow, magically, know how to migrate; and every summer, there will be juicy, red raspberries growing by the side of the road. The solidness of the earth is a reassuring fact, a core tenet, that provides a real sense of safety and well-being. Nature can be counted on.
So, let me tell you that I am deep-down petrified that nature no longer seems so consistent. Mountains may still not move, but due to extreme weather, it seems like pretty much everybody - people, animals, plants - else will be forced to move, adapt, or perish. Flash floods, wildfires, extreme cold and extreme heat are already killing people, wrecking people’s homes, busting businesses and ruining livelihoods. International conflict is predicted to become worse as climate change creates uncertainty. Refugees have already, and will continue, to increase as bouts of extreme weather and the on-going rise of the oceans transforms the places people live and work. Plants and animals are losing their habitats. (See the US Director of National Intelligence’s report, the Pentagon’s report, or the National Security Council’s report.)
Underscoring all of this is the fact that the populations most immediately and most severely affected by climate change are the already most vulnerable people - both globally and in the US. In the US, the people who are already suffering the most from environmental dangers - whether it is extreme temperatures, the location of toxic incinerators and power plants, loss of homes and businesses to flooding, and a myriad of other things - are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Environmentalism is a social justice and racial justice issue. (See the NAACP, Yale Environment 360, or the Global Citizen.)
This is all really, really bad news.
So, like a deer in headlights, I’m paralyzed. My brain short circuits between one extreme – everything-is-so-scary-I-will-run-around-like-a-chicken-with-my-head-cut-off – and the other – everything-is-so-scary-I’m-just-going-to-bury-my-head-in-the-sand-ostrich-style.
A friend was just telling me about “sunny day flooding” in Miami. Have you ever heard of this? I had not, but I Googled it and here is what I learned: when there are very high tides (called “king tides”), areas of Miami (and other coastal cities) now flood as a matter of course. Because of the higher sea levels, the very high tides reach right up onto the land where people built homes and businesses. The City of Miami’s website lists 25 days in 2021 when people in low-lying areas will predictably need to use sandbags to protect their homes from flooding; they can’t park their cars in the area; and, they need to be careful of their personal safety when in the area.
There is something that feels very Twilight Zone to me about this information, like it must exist in an alternate reality. This isn’t the most shocking, horrifying, terrifying effect of rising sea levels or extreme weather. It’s just a humdrum fact. “Sunny day flooding.” It's got an upbeat, literally “sunny” name. There are matter-of-fact recommendations for how to address the problem. Get some sandbags. Move your car.
What?!? Why wouldn’t we do something about the cause and stop this? This is an outrage! Why isn’t everyone doing something about this and the thousand other negative outcomes of climate change?
…and then, like the cliche – it’s SO embarrassing – I realized I’m somebody. Why aren’t I doing anything?
I thought about it. And, you know why? It is really freaking scary. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know where to start; who to talk to; what difference I’ll even make. To sum it all up in one word: “Overwhelming.” And, “overwhelming” really quickly morphs into another, even harder, word: “Depressing.”
After swirling around in “overwhelming” and “depressing,” for a moment or two – and, of course, expressing my outrage - I’m pretty happy to get back to the other things I need to do in my life. The things that I do know how to do. The things that I can accomplish and check off my list. Thank you very much.
But, as the news reports mount, it is starting to feel like I need another model besides a deer in headlights, a headless chicken, or an ostrich with my head in the sand. There needs to be a model for being able to stay with the hard facts, for not looking away - while also maintaining love and joy, for being able to practice self-compassion and compassion for others. Where are those animals?
I turned to Google. “Animals that represent determination, fortitude.” I found ants. Okay. Maybe. Richard Alois says, “Ants are known to signify strength, diligence, stamina, determination, unity, patience, and loyalty. As a spirit animal, they possess great strength and a sense of accomplishment which reminds us that regardless of size, if you put in the effort, anything is possible.”
That all seems great. I love the message that anything is possible. Let’s do it! …Except I don’t know what I’m doing yet. I have no plan, no marching directions. Further, I’m pretty sure I’ll get burned out. I can’t lift something 50 times my body weight, like those amazing ants. I need an animal with a little more wisdom, a little more compassion.
Ok, Google is not helping. I turned to my bookshelf. Lo and behold, in The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, by Lodro Rinzler, I found that the Tibetan Buddhists use a mythical creature, the Snow Lion, as a model for being both strong and joyful, energetic and wise.
The Snow Lion is capable of joyful and wise action because it has adapted to overcoming the “trap of doubt.” The trap of doubt is the concept that lives in our minds - consciously or unconsciously - that we aren’t good enough. We aren’t smart enough. We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t “enough” enough. The trap of doubt weighs us down and makes us feel like we should give up. It is sticky and heavy and makes everything feel pointless. I think at one point or another, we all feel the trap of doubt. Who are we to think that we can [fill in the blank]? Why do we deserve [again, fill in the blank]?
The mythical Snow Lion is able to float above this trap because of one super power: she believes in her own innate goodness. The model and the message of this mythical creature is that we can all tune in to our own innate goodness and believe that we are enough. We are enough - just by being ourselves. We are ALL inherently good enough. Yes, our goodness sometimes gets clouded over by stress, by anger, by confusion. But all of us have this deep-down, innate good nature.
So what? Who cares if we are inherently good?
Because, like the Snow Lion, when we tap into this goodness, we have more energy and resilience. We have more joy, creativity and wisdom. By tapping into our innate goodness, we have more light to offer to the world. Belief in our inherent goodness helps hold “overwhelming” and “depressing” - my two big barriers to action - at bay. It helps us not keep ourselves small, but rather to share our ideas, to think big, to create solutions. It helps us love ourselves so much that we know it is okay, and even prudent, to rest and recharge. Tapping into our innate goodness helps us be resilient; it gives us the energy, confidence, and the clarity of vision to keep going.
So how do we tap into this innate goodness? How do we, like the Snow Lion, start to feel our own enough-ness?
We can meditate. Meditation helps us get to know ourselves better. And, guess what? We are all innately good and wonderful. So, as we get to know our own minds and intentions better, we will start to feel that enough-ness more and more. When we meditate, we can cut through the stress, anger, and confusion and come home to our own joyful, wonderfulness. Not only does it feel wonderful, this feeling of enough-ness helps us create more peace in our own lives and in the world.
Photo credit: Marie O'Malley on Pixabay