It took me about two weeks into our current pandemic, after I emerged from shock, to realize how precisely applicable the content of my new book, Climate Cure: Heal Yourself to Heal the Planet, is for navigating our current pandemic. This is because the pandemic shares common root causes with climate crisis via what I call our "Triangle of Resilience Relationships." These three relationships consist of 1) our relationship with ourselves (inner healing), 2) our relationship with the natural world (nature connection), and 3) our relationship with one another (building heartfelt community).
In Climate Cure I explore how a deterioration of these essential relationships has caused and perpetuated climate crisis. The good news is that revitalizing these three relationships is a radical means to transform both our inner worlds as well as to promote the more beautiful planet we want to create.
Amid the suffering and devastation the pandemic, it is also causing many of us to slow down, break our habitual and mesmerizing routines, spend more time with ourselves and our families, and question our purpose and future in new ways—the exact conditions we need for genuine transformation and initiation.
The eight creative ways to cope that I share below are primarily geared to those of us with the privilege to choose a response to the pandemic—which we all possess to some degree—more than it is for those whose only choice is to respond to the call of essential medical duty, work overtime, or otherwise fight for survival minute to minute. By focusing on radically sustainable and creative ways to cope and thrive, we can revolutionize our own lives and use our privilege to create more justice.
While there are many recommendations for which natural remedies to take—and I have blended two potent herbal extract formulas for this purpose—I wanted to share some less common ways to cope and thrive through this time of simultaneous tragedy and opportunity. All are integral to Climate Cure and, as you may notice, each fortifies one or more of our Triangle of Resilience Relationships.
- Engage Inner Work
Inner work pertains to Triangle of Resilience Relationship #1 and is at the heart of Climate Cure . It hinges on the inner-outer, Yin-Yang dynamic formalized by the great Carl Jung and social justice hero Mahatma Ghandi: what we create in the world is a mirror image of what's inside us. Reckoning with grief and shadow work, as well as how to manage anxiety and work with fear, are at the heart of this inner work.
Many of us have been thrown into the proverbial yogi's meditation cave or onto the therapist's couch. We are forced to be face ourselves, without many of the distractions that prevent us from—or which we use to prevent—our deeper emotions and chronic bad habits. I've been personally retreating into a more internal space, revisiting old hurts and unresolved issues that arise just by slowing down and being more quiet and sensitive to my inner life.
This is a time for finding value and meaning in our own company as we learn new ways to regulate our minds and emotions. Struggles with sadness and depression, frustration and anger, fear and anxiety, helplessness and despair, are common struggles I hear these days. All are comprehensively explored in Climate Cure and will be reviewed more in depth in a sequel article, as it is beyond the scope of this one to address them.
Changing our perspective from "deprivation to development," as my friend Amy Belanger put it, can help us harvest the best from this opportunity, as we radically accept our predicament. Taking tough times on as a personal challenge to adapt and thrive rather than merely as a frustration or inconvenience can make all the difference in coping through rather than sinking from the stress of the pandemic and the overarching issue of climate change.
- Wave and Adopt
Wave: When in town, I wave to and greet as many people as I can. Most of us feel isolated and more afraid, so waving to, smiling, and greeting people—even as they drive by—uplifts me and seems to be a welcome relief for those who receive my salutations. Their return greeting helps me feel more connected and is a palpable reminder that we truly are all in this together.
Adopt: Pick someone or something that is underprivileged and "adopt" them. I have chosen to give free health support, products, and money to a couple others who are especially struggling, as well as make myself available for numerous others who are emotionally challenged. Another friend in my community, Brian Berman, has dedicated himself to printing headbands for medical workers who desperately need them.
Both "Wave and Adopt" especially help boost Triangle of Resilience Relationship #3, our connection with one another, during this time when we are kept apart from our larger community.
- Reckon with Mortality
While on a recent hike to the river bottom with my brother, I was suddenly confronted with my mortality. As we sat together in silence on our respective, socially distanced boulders, the water coursed around the river rocks. In that moment, beneath the level of thought, I had a deep visceral reckoning that I—and my whole family—would one day become that water, that rock, that earth. This was instantly juxtaposed at a feeling level with images of us all endlessly running around tackling the endless list of chores and obligations we have each day.
This experience occurred within a period of seconds, while the poignant and comforting sense of temporality lasted all evening into the next day. It brought on a wholesome grief that was not depressing or morbid. Rather, it was refreshing and helped calm my anxiety (as grief does) and settle me into an immediate aliveness and appreciation of the moment. It settled me into the belly of my experience of this pandemic.
Others have also shared with me that the theme of death is arising for them, and spontaneous reckonings like the one I describe, seem more common, as medicine for our times. Such encounters help us meet and process our losses, surrender neurotic control, and soften our hearts.
- Stoke the Absurd
There is plenty to be distraught about these days. At the same time, we can appreciate how bizarre and ridiculous this whole thing is—the intense and even bizarre measures effected in the face of the pandemic and the insanity of our species generally! None of this is to minimize the suffering and a compassionate response, or the seriousness of the issue. Rather, it is a way to lighten our stress around it, give our brains a break, and continue to stay apprised and functional.
Absurdity includes being silly. So find any opportunity to laugh! I have made up several nicknames for the virus, for example, which I bandy about with friends, who also appreciate such silliness. I even invent and bust our nonsensical songs about the virus.
My best friend and I have recently taken up the practice of creating elaborate treasure hunts (in unpopulated areas). We leave notes and clues in strange places and send each other on wild goose chases that end in a surprise treat. Some hunts take as long as an hour to complete! And we make up absurd stories along the way, such as the likelihood that badgers might get to the treasure before the other finds it. Thus, we recite the mantra: "beat the badger."
Embrace your own version of absurdity and silliness, and laugh often!
- Accept That You Might Get the Virus
One morning early last week, while still in bed, I had a spontaneous breakthrough. I realized and deeply accepted that I might get the virus and contract Covid-19. This wasn't an intellectual process and conclusion, but a spontaneous acceptance, like my river bottom experience with death.
This might seem like an unwise thing to accept, but it deeply helped me, paradoxically. I didn't realize just how much fear I was holding until that morning (note: I don't consider fear all bad; it is in fact adaptive in the right amount, as I discuss in depth in Climate Cure). But fear can build up unnecessarily when we are unawares. My psyche seemed to recognize that I was carrying an excess and it helped me let go by delivering the full-bodied reckoning that I might get the virus. As a result, and paradoxically, I felt relieved.
This acceptance doesn't change my actions and the precautions I take to avoid the virus; I'm just not carrying around as much unnecessary fear as I used to. Recently, I heard of a Covid patient who was relieved that what she most feared finally came true, and that it was not nearly as scary as what she had anticipated. Her fortunate experience, of course, is not everyone's.
Radically accepting this possibility helped my nervous system downshift two gears, a form of radical inner acceptance. I recommend not trying to accept this reality, just be open to its possibility for if it happens to visit you.
- Welcome Hardship
There seems a pervasive need to turn everything into a positive, to make the best of the pandemic, and to do anything to make it better. While it's often helpful to make the best of situations, it can also be exhausting and get in the way of deeper change. I know several people who have burned themselves out trying to do just this. Sometimes we frantically try to be positive as a result of being anxious and not being able to modulate this anxiety. Taking deep breaths often and naming our anxiety and fear when they arise can help us gain a little distance from these powerful emotions to allow us to be with them and not give in to our compulsions to frantically get away from them, which takes a lot of energy!
Consider letting part of yourself accept the hardship of these times without trying to change it. Experiment with accepting some of your suffering and just letting it hurt. This said, you don't have to suffer needlessly, so discern which aspects of your suffering to address proactively and which aspects you can't control to just let be. Acceptance can cause less suffering and nurture growth that takes us beyond our current limitations, especially when we don't try to constantly avoid hardship.
Transformation, after all, usually happens by being with difficulty, letting yourself be changed by it, not by trying to constantly transform it.
- Cultivate Radical Joy
Radical joy might seem incompatible with accepting hardship, but we can embrace both, as a tension of opposites. This is holistic, integral thinking as opposed to oppositional, binary thinking.
Poet and essayist Wendell Berry wrote, "Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts." In other words, we can also honor and consecrate joy amid challenging circumstances. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl also tells of generating radical joy in the concentration camps; his classic book Man's Search for Meaning is a potent read for these times and one I reference in Climate Cure.
Set aside time each day, or throughout the day, to allow yourself to experience joy. Don't grasp at joy, just create the ripe environment for it to find you. Again, laugh every chance you get!
In addition to the joys of eating, sex, and sleeping, try inviting more enjoyment through your own creativity, the joy of being in nature, bonding with your family (it's a practice!), and the joy of letting your body and mind rest and unwind during this time of pause. Several families I know have shared that they are coming together now more than they have in a decade. Also, finding joy in what is free and still abundantly available is radically resourceful and especially important these days of relative deprivation.
Maybe now is time to begin the book you've always wanted to write, exercise more, begin a regular meditation practice, learn about wild edible plants in your area, plant a garden, or begin composting. I've been making salads from wild mustard, mallow, and arugula, and harvesting wild oats, whose milky seed pod that emerges in spring is an excellent nervine (nervous system relaxant). Or maybe you want to get more serious about living in community or moving to the country.
For a more sublime and subtle joy, see if you can tap into the joy that the animals, and maybe even the plants, might be feeling or sensing without so much of our intrusion, noise, and pollution-making. I have rejoiced in the birdsong which seems clearer and more pronounced now due to lower ambient noise.
- Practice for Climate Crisis
Last—and definitely not least—it's important to keep the bigger picture and our longer trajectory in mind. Here we are in a mini, climate-like collapse, with the opportunity to practice adapting.
Our disturbed relationship with the natural world, pursuing infinite growth on a finite planet, and feeling entitled to comfort in every way, are some of the same underlying drivers for climate crisis. As I discuss in Climate Cure, many of our current challenges— including the wisdom for how to navigate difficult emotions such as anxiety, fear, and grief—are the same as those we encounter facing climate change. (An excerpt from the book on how to manage anxiety and depression, for example, can be downloaded here.)
Let's use this time to practice for the long run, for climate crisis proper, the likelihood of more pandemics and more severe limitations ahead, or for any future challenges. Many of us may soon be confronted with having to evacuate wildfires and floods; will we shelter in place to abide social distancing or evacuate and expose ourselves to others as we flee natural disaster?
Simplifying and decluttering our lives is key to adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic and Climate Crisis. Degrowth, or consuming less of everything, is also beneficial long-term to reduce your carbon footprint, even if doing so is largely a means to come into right alignment with our struggling planet. See what aspects of normal you can let go and do without to reduce stress, save money, and create more freedom.
I invite you to pull out your journal and jot down responses to the following:
- Which aspects of this essay most spoke to you?
- Which aspects of the essay spoke to you the least?
- After reading this essay, In what ways are you inspired to consider changing, commit to change, or to continue (or adjust) what you've been doing?