There is a long piece in The Guardian’s on-line publication (interestingly enough sponsored by Unilever) on sustainability and spirituality. Although it is geared toward a corporate audience, it speaks to many of the issues I, and maybe many of you, have been grappling with.
Integrating Despair and OptimismWhile the sustainability movement has already taken some giant strides towards understanding the pathways to change, there is one area in particular where a dualistic mindset has many remaining stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Practitioners talk of experiencing severe mood swings, one day believing the ‘end is nigh,’ and the next believing we can find a way of avoiding environmental and social catastrophe. This inability to integrate the seemingly opposite forces of despair and optimism is sapping the energy of many and creating confusion about how to encourage behaviour change in others. Some say we need to tell people the truth about the destruction we are wreaking, while others say this will turn people away and the answer is to be positive and make sustainability fun. To be truly effective, we need to find a path that integrates the two and to recognise that western society has been naively built on the avoidance of pain and suffering. This is in marked contrast to every spiritual tradition that teaches that happiness is to be found by travelling to the centre of our pain and transforming it into a blessing.
Gratitude and Honoring PainJoanna Macy and Chris Johnstone write in their book Active Hope that having gratitude is the first step to healing our pain. ‘When we come from gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing living world,’ they write.
‘Yet the very act of looking at what we love and value in our world brings with it an awareness of the vast violation under way, the despoliation and unravelling. From gratitude we naturally flow to honouring our pain for the world.
‘Admitting the depths of our anguish, even to ourselves, takes us into culturally forbidden territory. From an early age we had to pull ourselves together, to cheer up or shut up.
‘By honouring our pain for the world, we break through the taboos that silence our distress. When the activating siren of inner alarm is no longer muffled or shut out, something gets switched on inside us. It is our survival response.’