This is a summary of a workshop I’ve been giving recently. It’s a work in progress, so I’d be interested in any constructive comments…
This is an emergency. Parliaments and local councils are declaring what some of us have known for some time: there is a climate emergency. Every day, the news tells us about melting glaciers and ice sheets, wild fires, droughts, floods, and extinctions. We have to change, and the change must be deep and rapid.
It feels like facing a high cliff and being told that you must get to the top in one leap. Even to climb it the normal way feels like an impossible challenge, so what are you going to do? Give up in despair? Panic?
Charles Eisenstein has written that urgency pushes us towards the tools and solutions that we have now – the way of thinking that is causing the problem. That’s the danger of panicking. He says, “What is needed is something totally different: to listen to our hearts, and to feel into the right thing to do.”
Listening to our hearts and feeling into the right thing to do sounds like something spiritual. So what if, rather than being driven by the voices clamouring for what “we all need” to do, we stop and listen for the call of our hearts? What if, rather than feeling judged by all the shoulds and oughts, we take the trouble to discover what is true to our true selves? What if saving the world is a spiritual matter?
I propose the following dual cycle as a way of walking a path up that cliff – a path that is a response to a sense of call and is therefore a true path for you as you truly are.
The inner cycle goes from prayer/meditation through a refusal to judge and a commitment to act in love and grace and back to prayer/meditation and so on around.
The idea is that in prayer/meditation you listen to your heart, i.e. to your feelings and desires. You explore how actions feel, whether they bring you a sense of joy and connectedness, whether they expand your soul and affirm life; or whether they feel overwhelming, close you down and bring a sense of greyness.
Refusing to judge means that these discernments are not about whether your actions are good or bad. It’s simply a discernment about what resonates with your true, inner self and so listening to the call of your heart. Refusing to judge also frees you up from judging others so that you can celebrate actions being taken by others. Sadly, after a lifetime in the Church, getting more involved in environmental campaigning has introduced me to a whole new level of judgementalism. Not judging but celebrating and encouraging can build a joyful movement that will look more like the peaceful and connected flourishing community that I hope will emerge out of this crisis.
Acting in love and grace is in some ways just a positive way of saying don’t judge, but it also introduces the idea of why we are acting and who it’s for.
The outer cycle is like a classic action-reflection cycle, going from doing something, through enjoying it and thinking about it around to doing something else.
I don’t think it really matters what you do to start with. This is going to be your path up the climate cliff, and it will intersect with the paths that others are climbing, and between us we’ll get to the top. The first steps may be small, as may be some intermediate steps and maybe all the steps you take. The distance from the foot of the cliff to the top is immense and you can’t jump it in one go. This process is about discovering and walking your true path. For example, changing your diet from a typical western diet of meat three times daily and lots of processed food to one that’s plant-based, organic, and locally-sourced is a huge leap and attempting it is likely to end in failure; but making incremental changes may actually get you there.
Learning to enjoy the action is part of the discernment of whether this is true to the calling of your heart. It may not come straight away, but all the time you’re engaging in that inner cycle too.
Thinking about it may include further research into impacts and spark off new ideas for enhancing your action or trying something else.
In truth, the two cycles intersect to form one movement.
One criticism of this model is that it’s too slow. We’re in an emergency and it’s obvious how to make the biggest and most effective difference. I have two responses to that. First, it depends how fast you go around the cycle. Second, I have seen how this cycle has released church communities from feeling overwhelmed and fearful of the judgement of others. People have been set free to try things out and encourage each other to go further, and there’s been a mood of celebration. The result has been people coming away feeling excited and motivated rather than guilty, and going on to actually make changes to how they live. Fear and condemnation, combined with being told what to do, doesn’t motivate many people.
Another criticism is that it’s individualistic. I think that the prayer/meditation will be done in private, but it could also be done in a group, in which case the disciplines of acting in love and grace and not judging will build co-operative and joyful communities, almost automatically, with some actions inevitably being taken as a group.
This is an emergency. There’s no time to waste on action that’s not joyful and life-giving, because what’s needed in the face of despair and death is joy and life. There’s no time not to take time to grow into action that is true to the call of your heart. Saving the world is a spiritual matter.