Can you feel it, this heaviness and pressure in your heart area? Maybe just occasionally, maybe only if you become quiet and consciously direct your attention to this part of your body, maybe especially when you see or hear the newest fearful development of the Climate Crisis.
New and extensive studies show, that the majority of the global population is negatively affected by the environmental challenges we are facing as a world community. Most of us are suffering in one way or another, it’s impossible to completely ignore the effects of the Climate Crisis. Of course the experience is so different for everyone.
What is the same for all of us, is that we are all scrabbling for coping mechanisms. Deep inside, imprinted in our DNA, we know that when the natural world around us is threatened, so are we. We can’t be separated from Nature. WE ARE Nature. These coping mechanisms can be conscious and subconscious, reactive or purposeful.
How fear affects our mind, body and heart:
One of the predominant emotions in these times is fear with a spectrum of expressions and secondary emotions such as anxiety, worry, depression, grief, anger, denial etc.
Fear is experienced both in our minds and in our bodies. It triggers a strong physical dominoes effect: our amygdala is activated and alerts our nervous system, which sets our body’s fear response into motion. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released, our blood pressure and heart rate increase. Our breathing becomes faster and even our blood flow changes: blood flows away from our heart and into our limbs, making it easier for us to either attack or run for our life. Our body is in fight-or-flight mode, which is a necessary and life-saving mechanism.
Normally fear is an instant and short-lived emotion, protecting us from sudden and unexpected perceived danger. Once the event is over or danger is averted, our nervous system usually finds its equilibrium quite quickly, that’s of course if it isn’t an event causing lasting trauma.
What we are currently experiencing and living through in relation to the Climate Crisis is different though. Our worries and fears are not only based on current, sudden and passing situations, they are also affected by serious and scientifically founded predictions for the future. You might have heard of the term eco-anxiety or other related expressions such as eco grief, climate fear, climate depression etc. Our nervous system doesn’t get the chance to find its way back from fight-or-flight to a neutral and relaxed state. This of course has multiple consequences, one of them being building up defence mechanisms such as closing off parts of our hearts in order not to feel this constant pain.
Check in with your heart:
If you would like, try this simple practice to experience what I mean by this:
Find a comfortable position and place one hand over your heart.
Take a few conscious breaths and become still, breathing normally.
Bring awareness to your heart area and tune into any physical sensations, maybe warmth, tingling, tightness, or maybe nothing at all at this moment.
If it feels ok for you, bring to mind a general awareness of the Climate Crisis and environmental challenges we are facing.
Try not to be too specific, it’s more about a general sense rather than a particular event.
Staying with the sensations in your heart area, now in relation to your thoughts about the Climate Crisis, what sensations do you feel?
Does it feel open and expanded, or tight and closed?
Meeting any upcoming emotions and sensations with kindness and compassion, maybe even moving your hand with comforting intention.
Of course, we are all different in our awareness, resilience and coping mechanisms but maybe you got a physical awareness of your heart’s reaction to the challenging times we live in.
So why is opening our hearts so important and what does it have to do with Climate Action?
When we are in a fearful anxious state of mind we become paralysed in our ability to move forward. It’s difficult to connect to any positive emotions and thoughts. We are either in fight-or-flight mode with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies, or we have moved into a state of denial and apathy. Either end of the spectrum is a survival mode rather than a state from which we can become proactive and forward-moving. Climate Action requires connection, community and optimism without ignoring the facts. When we are in survival mode, none of this is possible.
Many of us are afraid to feel the emotions and the collective pain and that is more than understandable. In order to move forward with hope and empowerment, it is necessary though that we gently touch into this pain and feel it with compassion in our hearts. You might have heard of “The Work That Reconnects” founded by the wonderful Joanna Macy. WTR is a spiral approach to finding hope amidst the Climate Crisis. As you can see in this beautiful illustration by Dori Midnight, honouring our pain is a crucial element on the path to “going forth”.
Opening our hearts and moving away from fear is a conscious practice and something we can purposefully include in our daily routines. Two beautiful examples of heart-opening practices are loving kindness and self-compassion. Both of these exercises acknowledge difficulties and guide us to meet these with kindness and compassion. There are many variations and it’s important we go gently with ourselves rather than jumping right into the most painful experience. I’d highly recommend Tara Brach and Kristen Neff’s heart-opening and self-compassion practices but there are also many other wonderful recordings.
I also invite you to take my free 30-day Climate Hope Challenge which includes a guidebook with helpful links, practices and suggestions. As with any other training, regular practice is so important (hence the 30-day schedule to create a routine), even if it’s just ten minutes every day, it’s so worth it!!
Opening our hearts is not only important in the context of Climate Action of course, but it’s also an invaluable support for our mental and emotional health at any time. I hope you find this useful and maybe I’ll “see” you in the Climate Hope Challenge Facebook Group.
If you are a mental health or education professional you might like to learn more about our professional practitioner training “Mindfulness Rooted Ecotherapy”. This groundbreaking modality will teach you how to apply a wide range of mindfulness and nature-connecting skills to meet the challenges of our time. Now more than ever we need to rethink our approach to human and planetary health.
For a trial period of six months, MRE is available as an evergreen training at a greatly reduced fee. This means you can sign up and get started anytime that suits your schedule and get certified as a Mindfulness Rooted Ecotherapy Practitioner.
For mindfulness and ecotherapy resources for adults and children, come and visit our online shop.