Tag Archives: bushfires

Year of activism #7

The sunsets are spectacular at the moment and it is the particles in the air, probably from the bushfires, that is making them so. The sun and our blue dot spinning around in the galaxy, with the light waves bouncing off the horizon inviting us in each evening to reflect on what has been, what the darkness is calling us to and as a constant reminder of the rhythm of nature. What meaning do we put on the beauty in the skies? Do we know what we are seeing? Is gazing into the beginning of darkness and being captured by the wonder of it all, desensitizing us for what might be ahead? The glow of summer in the heavens, might well be a version of the afterglow of an affair with a narcissist. We have been seduced by lovers of fossil fuels, so seduced we didn’t listen to our mother, we didn’t notice all the acts of infidelity along the way. And then when it was almost too late we woke up and yet still wanted to go back to the way it was, surely it could be fixed? What did I do wrong? Can’t I make it better? Could we try again? But it is not about us the ones who are waking up. We have do to the breaking up, the aching and grieving. We have to get stronger everyday and keep turning our backs on our old lover. We have to know we were seduced and it is over, give up our addiction and find friends who can keep us on the straight and narrow who can keep us ‘sober’.

We will fall and we will have moments of failure and self-loathing. These sun sets are a version of gaslighting undermining us and giving us fake news about what is really going on. Like a hit of dopamine to keep us in the game and bring on amnesia. We have to be strong and resist – that’s what friends are for – people who can hold us steady, not blame when we falter and who will show us and support us to find our way back.

I have real trouble with people metaphorically shouting at me in their writings and actions about what has to be done. I am sometimes paralysed. The kind of help I need is compassion, understanding and gentle encouragement. I find I need to be coaxed not yelled at. To be noticed and encouraged when I make a little adjustment and take a little more responsibility, really helps me.

Perhaps we need a 12 step program as a world so we can recover from our addiction to fossil fuels? I am sure I am not the first person who has thought of this. My adaptation of the 12 steps for a activist in these times:

  1. Admit you were powerless over fossil fuels — that your life had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself (Mother Earth/ Creation) could restore you to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of Mother Earth
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to Mother Earth, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of your relationship with fossil fuels and where it has led you
  6. Be ready to have Mother Earth remove your defective ways
  7. Humbly asked Mother Earth to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all species, beings and places you harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends wherever possible and find ways to bring your contributions to join with others on the same path
  10. Continue to take personal inventory, and when you falter, admit and move on.
  11. Foster a spiritual relationship with Mother Earth and all of creation.
  12. Be informed by your spiritual practice on how to invite others to join you

Despite this approach it is structural and even my best efforts and the ones of those around me aren’t enough to turn this ship around. We are tug boats in the harbour, but maybe with enough of us it will be enough. Thinking my little bit isn’t much use is seductive. As Brene Brown’s research has taught us how shame takes hold with two messages: “you are never good enough” and “who do you think you are?” I wonder if this is what is turning up as activists too? Brown says shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. So picking up that thread I can take some tiny steps, maybe not all the big 12 steps, towards kicking the habit and not being seduced by shame because my efforts do matter,
I am making a difference and when my difference is added to another’s there is the potential for structural change and for today that is enough. Keep a focus on the practice, the behaviour and not on the self, surely another instruction from Mother Earth who spins and toils with the rhythm of night after day. And give up the shame of being seduced by sunsets.

Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.