Cultivating Presence on the Cusp of Collapse
ESSAY BY KATE WEINER
PHOTO BY AUSTIN DRAWHORN
How can I find my footing in a rapidly unraveling world? What can I do to be a part of the regeneration? Who am I at my core?
Grappling with these big questions has left me restless this week. My morning meditation has been hasty and I wake from fitful sleeps with a heavy heart. There is so much that is sweet in my world—my infinitely beautiful community of friends and family, the miracle that is my breath and body, the beauty of my mountain home, the hope that heals my heart when I reflect on the million and one activists in this world working to support a thriving future—and so much that fills me with sorrow.
The toxic chemicals seeping into the soil in California after the most devastating wildfire in history.
The wild rivers in the Blue Heart of Europe on the brink of destruction from damming.
The daily extinction of precious species.
The plastic pollution pooling in our oceans.
The communities of color in formerly colonized countries who are losing their homes thanks to the pernicious impact of “Western” consumers.
The brave voices that have been—and continue to be—extinguished by the fossil fuel plutocracy. (Thinking today of Berta Cáceres and so many more…)
Part of my work in this world is to be present to these losses. To grieve the change and fight for a thriving future. And although a central question that humans have faced throughout history is how to navigate the deep wonder and wild loss that co-exist in our culture, it’s especially difficult work to do when faced with accelerating climate change. Some days I feel grounded in the deliciousness of my everyday—the black capped chickadees that dart through the thicket of trees on my evening hike, the warmth of nourishing suppers shared with activist friends—and some days I fear I am hurtling toward an apocalyptic future and I don’t know how to handle the hypotheticals. What if? What if?
I’ve been wrapped up in the what ifs these past few tenderhearted days. And although I have been here before and will be here again, each time that I am overwhelmed by the uncertainty I am reminded that finding my way back into equilibrium is a process in cultivating presence. Because if I want to be part of the healing—if I want to nurture collective libration and ecological regeneration and profound systems change—I can only do so from a place of wholehearted awakening. When I’m panicky and anxious and sad, I’m not good for much.
This is not to say that panic and anxiety and sadness don’t have a place. Our emotions need to run their course and I will always believe deep in my bones that honoring our grief is as integral to living in this world as carving out the space for our joy to bloom bright and fruit wildly.
Wallowing in the overwhelm, however, plucks us from the present moment and dumps us into the valley of existential despair. And that’s not where I want to live and love and grow from. Fear doesn’t feed my soul and fuel impactful action. What does is a deep love for and attention to what’s unraveling right now.
What is really happening? Where are we really at? How can I hold the contradictions in my heart with compassion? How can I make space for imperfection, for suffering, for uncertainty and for grace, for reverence, for love? How can I acknowledge the collapse and continue to cherish life through cultivating the conditions for new worlds to emerge?
It’s these guideposts that return me to the present when I am living in an imagined future. Creating space for complexity isn’t easy but it’s damn necessary. And working from presence is far more possible when I give thanks for what is coming into being even as I’m surrounded by unraveling. Because for all my sadness and uncertainty, I am forever and fundamentally rooted in gratitude. It’s a freaking gift that I am alive at this time.
I don’t have much else to say this wintery Wednesday, only that if you, too, are deep in the grief for unfurling collapses and collapses to come, ground yourself in the present. Take the space to disconnect from the digital realm and root in the rich reality.
Lay down somewhere soft and sweet. The floor of your bedroom. The cold earth covered in gold grass.
Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
Put a palm on your heart and breathe in deep.
Close your eyes. What stories can you sense? What sounds can you hear?
Take in these sensations—powerful proof that our planet persists in living even as ecosystems collapse—and give thanks for the forces that brought your surroundings into being.
Thank you sun. Thank you moon. Thank you soil. Thank you mama. Thank you tree.
Every time a thought yanks you into the hypothetical future, forgive your striving mind and speak sweetly to your tender heart. You are only doing what your reptilian brain has been wired to do. Honor your anxiety. Honor your grief.
Thank you sadness for showing me the depths of my heart. Thank you fear for reminding me of my humanity.
Reflect on who and what you are grateful for right now. Feel your heart open a little.
And do that, again and again, for as long as needed. This moment is precious, the present moment is ripe for revolution, and you are powerful.
My Eco Anxiety Toolkit
reads, rituals, and remedies to help you feel resourced when you are hurting