Journalist Richard Schiffman writes about the environmental crisis through the eyes of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross' seminal work that showcases the stages and coping mechanisms of those facing the end of life and its loss. His essay “The Five Stages of Environmental Grief” is included in a trilogy of his work featured with permission, in the 4th edition of “Words and Violence”—one of the Charter’s educational programs and a permanent installation at Voices Education Project Pedagogical Institute, now adopted as the educational arm of the Charter for Compassion International.
Schiffman traces the stages of grief as we travel the environmental path together that we have constructed or allowed others (mindfully or not) to forge into the predictable future. All toward our tomorrows-- on this planet. Or our no tomorrows. Our fate hangs in the balance and is dependent on our awakening and when awakened, engaging in earnest, in the work of healing the planet.
Last summer, I staffed a booth for the Charter Environment Sector at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association annual exhibition and conference at their headquarters in Wisconsin. For the 3 days and nights that I immersed myself in dialogue with people walking through the exhibits, a common narrative emerged. I came away knowing one thing to be true: We know. We know and we feel it. We sense what is happening to our world. Everyone I met was feeling it. It was in their speech, in their eyes, in the way they held their bodies, in their language, in their involuntary sighs, in their breathing.
Because the problem is earth-sized, (soul sized, really) we can easily stagger around in a state of overwhelm at the magnitude of what we face. And because we can feel so insignificant in comparison, we sometimes cope with defense mechanisms that protect us from allowing that grief in. We armor ourselves against it. Every person I met and spoke to at the MREA was personally in some stage of grief and feeling things like—anger, overwhelm, hopelessness, pain, despair,... All felt a sense of urgency. Some were even using denial, indifference or distraction to cope. There was a lot of anger. There were mostly failed attempts at denial or minimizing. There was some resignation but mostly there was frustration. Many felt powerless. They felt helpless. Impotent. And nobody wants to feel impotent.
As a former nurse, I know well the varied stages of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified in those facing a loss of life. I have accompanied people through those stages during their final journey. I witnessed the same phenomenon in everyone I spoke to at the conference. To a person, each of them was inhabiting a stage of personal grief. Some demonstrated multiple stages. I listened. I understood. I validated. And I congratulated everyone for their capacity to love and the magnitude of that love for their planet—for that is the truth of where and why these feelings arise. And I told them about the Charter for Compassion and the hope intrinsic in a movement racing toward critical mass that aims to spread compassion over the earth and create a more humane narrative for humankind on this planet. I acknowledged the collective pain and vowed to do something to help thaw frozen grief, for grief that is stuck in the human heart-- harms. It can prevent action. To move beyond the grief, we must first acknowledge it and feel its impact to allow it to move through unimpeded. If impeded, it cannibalizes our energy and produces an emotional stalemate. When we thaw, we are freed to move forward.
The film featured here is a journey where we are accompanied to our feelings, through our grief (whether unconscious or not) and to the soul-sized message that underlies our anxiety-- LOVE. (Big love.) What triggers this grief is a deep and fathomless love for our planet and its gift of life.
Author and scholar Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion International has said that a compassionate community is an uneasy community-- uneasy because where there is a lack of compassion, there is suffering. And there is likely suffering somewhere in the ecosystem we call "home."
We are all a bit uneasy about things like "the environment" or "climate change" because we feel this "field" of suffering and we aren't quite sure whether we humans have caused it. The "field" is one of many names assigned to the collective consciousness, the prevailing paradigm or pop culture memes, the dominant mind-set. or the collective unconscious, or the shadow side (infantile and self-centered) of the human ego and its counterpart, "bright shadow." Bright shadow is the human being's innate and hard-wired capacity for brilliance and compassion-- the internal hero that steps up in service to humanity when a situation calls for it. (Think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the same persona.) It's not just anthropology that confirms the hard-wiring for empathy and compassion-- "hard" science now agrees. The new studies in neuroscience and neurobiology have identified "mirror neurons" that foster an empathic response in the brain for what it meets along the spectrum of human experience, and even for what it simply imagines. "The planetary field" carries the vectoring of all human attitudes, beliefs and actions-- ever-- on the planet since the beginning of time. Everything leaves an imprint in the morphogenetic field of what Carl Sagan called "the pale blue dot," our Earth.
Peter Russell wrote about "the global brain" which delineates a kind of arc of existence, that if maintained, establishes an ecosystem that precisely supports human life. Wander outside that range and life is threatened. Think of that curve as the cerebellum or brain stem that is rudimentary and regulates temperature, chemicals and processes that make life possible. The collective "intelligence" of this global brain or its frontal cortex is... us. We are that vectoring of human endeavor on this little speck of dust surrounded by a vast and frightening sea of silence and death. The edge of this world is the edge of life; step off this world and step into nothingness and non-being. There is a part of the human (brain? intelligence? soul?) that senses or knows an encounter with truth and reality-- call it the actualized or spiritual self that has/is another faculty altogether. The human intuitively knows what is life-affirming or what is death-dealing. This advanced intellect or self knows automatically what is soulful and what is not-- that is hard-wired too and when this intelligence is accessed given a choice between two alternatives, knows the life-affirming and soulful one innately. Test it for yourself. Ask "which of these choices is soulful" and wait for the body's response. The bones know. Thus our uneasiness about the state of our world. It's in our bones. They are, after all, made of the same stuff as the cosmos.
This planet is a gift to us. We didn't create it. But we have the power and capacity to destroy it.
Humankind reached that fulcrum of evolution when it became capable of extinguishing itself and all life. We arrived there when the Manhattan Project split the atom and released that energy, then went forward with a plan to build a bomb capable of the destruction of our planet and all life. Suddenly there was the power to turn the planet into cinders, into ash. Was it a good idea to pursue splitting the atom? Or was that like giving an irresponsible species a new plaything it wasn't mature enough to handle and wasn't ready for?
This film is designed to help you answer that question or at the very least, to help you ask it. Humanity usually teeters between the poles of opposites, between dueling archetypes. In this case study (Planet Earth) we teeter archetypally between soaring and raw pain and soaring and raw beauty.
If you think you're ready to take this soul-size journey, watch it at your own risk.
When one can make a difference, one should. Everyone has unique gifts and abilities they brought to this planet. This film was produced by an amazing group of gifted artists who understand that there are those who come here to make a change with a haunting restlessness to make the world a better place. Perhaps it's destiny; perhaps it's a calling. Maybe its a compelling drive to hone one's unique abilities as an answer to the fits and whispers of bright shadow and beyond. Or maybe, on this pale blue dot, it's simply art in service to humanity.
Last year, the “Words and Violence” Project, a program of Voices Compassionate Education, the Pedagogical Institute and educational arm of the Charter for Compassion, released its 4th edition. The emphasis in the 4th edition is on Mother Earth, and how resilient she has been in the wake of the endless ways we bully her. We've heard the stories of climate change, deforestation, global warming, pollution, and the misuse of our natural resources. This new edition of "Words and Violence" helps concretize the planet's reality, and offers hope for a new beginning, with ways to thaw frozen grief, cultivate the love that lies within the human heart and transform our concerns into motivation and action.
Compassion is the antidote to bullying. To suffering. Compassion in 3-D. For self. For others. And for our Earth.
To launch your 3-D Compassion journey, watch the film with the intention to find and feel compassion for your own grief. And feel the love in that.
You may feel a sense of restlessness or uneasiness. That's a good thing. That's love masquerading as something else. You may know what you have to do or you may have to learn it. Or you may have no idea where to start. Start by joining the Charter for Compassion. You'll figure it out. Join the Charter
Occasionally there are those who come to earth to champion humanity, to accept responsibility and become co-stewards of our reality. Of our planet. Thank goodness for them. They inspire us and call us to the internal source of our bright shadow. They call in voice, in messages, in images, and many times in the universal language of music. And every Earth needs a good song.
Time to sing along? Then sing your own song. And you're invited to harmonize with the rest of us.