April 20, 2015

Indignation and Solace

You shouldn't mess with Mother Nature.

Mother Nature, and therefore all of life on earth, is in peril. Like many people, I am pissed off.

Many people are knowledgeable and aware of the ongoing mistreatment of the Earth. Some of those that are highly sensitive to this mistreatment "tremble with indignation at every injustice". One can only do so much trembling before balance needs to be restored.

The group Psychologists for Social Responsibility say,

Millions of people are likely to exhibit some of the following symptoms in response to climate change’s stressors:
  • Anxiety 
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Depression
  • Interpersonal conflict and societal conflict
  • Family stress
  • Persistent grief
  • Child behavioral and developmental problems and academic decline
  • Eco-anxiety, hopelessness, and avoidance from the awareness of climate change

Add the collapse of the Pacific Ocean, GMOs, chemical poisons like Monsanto's glyphosate, and increased levels of nuclear radiation and the situation becomes even more dire. How do we seek solace from this onslaught and move from indignation to a calm healthy state of mind?

Far from wanting to harsh anyones buzz, as a student of psychology, I believe it is important to be aware of the potential harms to our mental health as we work toward a more sane planet.  The pyschologist's organization quoted above has a general suggestion that won't be popular with the people pushing infinite growth:
"Clearly, if we are to deter the psychological -- much less physical and planetary -- harm that climate change portends, strong, quick action is needed now to implement energy and consumption alternatives that prevent this risk to our collective psychological well-being."
In other words, one way of dealing with the harms of a deteriorating planet, and our reaction to them, is to shift from energy and consumption excess towards lifestyles that are wise to the limits and potential of natural systems.

Taking action may be the most important way to assuage the mental madness, but thankfully it is not the only way. Doing things to take your mind off of the state of things can go a long way to calming the demons of environmental dread.

Some of the ways my sweety and I use to scrub our minds of detrimental detritus are:

  1. Relationships - with each other, friends and family.
  2. Music - ahh, if it can calm a savage soul it can heal a gentle one.
  3. Cooking and Baking - we love to make our own food from scratch.
  4. Nature - how can you think of anything else when watching a bird soar, or a tree leaf out in the Spring?
  5. Gardening - nurturing a garden is good green therapy, plus you get clean food.

How do you maintain your mental health in trying times?


  1. I don't comment often, but want to let you know how much I enjoy your blog and reading your posts. This post is an exceptionally good one.

    1. Thank you. It is wonderful to hear from members of the NBA community.

  2. Anonymous4/20/2015

    "Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I've found. I found it is the small things. Every day deeds by ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay." - Gandalf the Grey/White quote from Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

    Just thought of this quote after reading your post. I really believe it's the little things that will keep the evil at bay.

    1. Oh, yes. We love that quote. We all have the power to instigate meaningful change, and doing so feels good and right.

      Each of us can be candles, torches even, and brighten the darkness back to the shadows where it belongs.

  3. I don't comment often, but I do read each and every one of your posts and appreciate them all. This subject is one I am especially struggling with. I've always been what I'd term a hopeful realist (which is perhaps a bit of an oxymoron) but ever since reading Eaarth, just over a year ago, I've been at times overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and grief. It's proving very difficult to simultaneously imagine the future our children face and to keep my indignation over the actions (and inactions) of others in check (or at least, to keep my indignation within the bounds of what is still socially correct).

    1. Marian,

      Thank you for weighing in (and I do mean 'weighing' as it is a heavy topic) on this post. We live in a world that treats those sensitive to injustices harshly, or at best manages to ignore the canaries and Cassandras.

      I haven't read Eaarth yet, but found this in a wikipedia entry on the book - "McKibben lays out his analysis of how we have arrived at the current situation, and conveys genuine sorrow as he explains how the drive for economic growth based on hydrocarbons since the 1970s has led the planet to the point of breakdown."

      I think that sorrow, grief and a sense of hopelessness are appropriate reactions to what is happening. But in most quarters the band plays on while the ship continues to sink.

      This urge toward denial is another understandable reaction, and one that is most common. People are trying to protect themselves from the obvious truth, but are using a strategy that is sure to fail. If you feel bad, you know you are on the right track - it is the first step toward having that conversion experience that leads to a simpler, saner lifestyle.

      Our anger is a hot coal - we have to either pass it on to our target, or pour a jug full of good thoughts on it before we get burned (in socially and legally correct ways, of course).

  4. gretchen4/21/2015

    to your most excellent list i would add prayer/meditation, long walks, gentle exercise and reading good books.

    1. gretchen,

      Yes, yes, yes and yes. Those are all excellent additions.

      I would be remiss if I didn't add to my list working on this blog with Linda and everyone that has become part of our little simple living community through this work. Many a day we have had that reader comments have provided a soothing mental salve to our inflamed grey matter.

  5. Hi Gregg,
    to tell the truth, I don't think I've been maintaining my mental health very well at all. It seems that just as I start to relax there is some new threat to the health of my children and the health of the planet. I feel like I'm living through a war most of the time, and it's really hard to imagine that this war will ever end. It has also become very much a full-time job just to source clean, safe food, and to keep abreast of what is happening to our food.

    The other issue I struggle with is guilt - that I'm not doing as much as I could, that I didn't recycle the week I had a cold, that some food was wasted because the kids didn't eat as much as I thought they would etc...

    So I recently had a good talking to myself over a sink of dishes. I realised that there are billions of us on the planet, and that ALL of us are responsible for climate change. I can only do my best, not solve the whole mess. If everyone did half that much we would be well on the way to healing the planet. I also gave myself some time listening to Louise Hay, and decided to 'choose thoughts that make you happy'. In other words, limit my time worrying and remember to have fun and enjoy the children and my friends. I think the solution is all about where we put our focus - your list is a great reminder.


    1. All across the so-called "civilized" world we have assholes in charge. Just look at Canada - asshole. Britain - asshole. Australia - asshole. Now Canada is helping Nazis take over Ukraine, and who are more asshole-ish than Nazis?

      There is some major backsliding to the bad old days taking place globally, except for perhaps some South American countries (which are under attack by capitalist interests that don't like sharing like we were all taught in kindergarten).

      I think Canada's leader considers kindergarten to be a "socialist plot". Mean people seem to be winning the "war" that you refer to, and it is depressing to be governed by people who hate.

      It can be overwhelming, but sticking together and finding strength in numbers is the way to go. We have to come together and fight for what we think is right, which would be a clean environment and caring for one another. You mention other good strategies for coping.

      I like what Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about how to conduct ourselves:

      I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning
      and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon.
      I vow to live simply and sanely,
      content with just a few possessions,
      and to keep my body healthy.
      I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free.

      Feeling isolated is not conducive to empowering ourselves, which is why I enjoy NBA and comments like yours so much. It is comforting to know you are not alone, and realize that together we are strong. We must use that collective strength to get our planet back on track.

      I like to think that voting helps, but with so many flaws in our systems, I'm not even sure about that any more. We need proportional representation here in Canada so that every vote counts when it comes to the make up of our government.

      Argh - we have to channel anger into action...

    2. Thanks for your reply, Gregg, and that lovely quote. You are right about supporting one another, and I have joined my local sustainable living group - it is filled with lovely, caring, active people. At the meetings I do sometimes feel we are preaching to the converted, though. I am pondering how to reach the wider community, perhaps with regular newspaper articles.

      I saw an interesting TV program recently which was a discussion of religion and science. One of the interviewees was in advertising, and she commented that you won't get people to agree with you point of view by talking and giving information - she said images that images are what is needed, you have to get at people's emotions. That has also given me food for thought.
      I do know that when I'm giving piano lessons I use fountain pens, and kids always ask about them and many now have them. I don't tell them why I'm using a refillable pen until they ask. And then I usually throw in ' hey, I also use a bamboo toothbrush that goes into the compost - cool, yeah!' Then a bit of maths - how many toothbrushes do you think 26,000000 Aussies throw into the landfill each year? And then back to Bach!!

      It's amazing to me how the kids find the pens so beautiful, and makes me realise they are surrounded by so much ugly, disposable stuff each day. Perhaps if enough of us can inspire the upcoming generation of kids the tide can really turn :)



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