"Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us."
S.O.S. was created to fill a void
We are viewing our planetary systems reacting to imbalance in our human systems. I believe that the symptoms being labeled under eco-anxiety are a very sane, reasonable and healthy responses to an existential threat and feelings of loss because of our love and interwoven relationships within our natural world. We all need to feel safe and secure and it is understandable to feel pain, loss and suffering when something we love and the projected future appears threatened.
SOS was born from my journey from despair to empowerment
Acknowledging the sensations as a reality, instead of dismissing, distracting or dissociating ourselves from them is a step to transitioning these uncomfortable feelings. I developed SOS to support and nourish people, ripple into local communities and places.
Our groups have noted the cultural avoidance of the 'negative/positive thinking' judgemental thinking prevents truly feeling which in turn can block necessary action.
From an ecocentric perspective we collaborate and co-create with the vision of restoring our planet to a safer climate for life to thrive, and be part of an equitable, inclusive, creative, adaptive and resilient community.
SOS sets aside time within our local community and busy daily lives.
We enjoy rejuvenating moments as we collaborate with each other and nature and realise we are not alone with our thoughts and sensations. Ecopsychology methods along with other practices offer tools for us to navigate an uncharted future together.
Self-care is an important part of activism actions, we need to feel healthy and supported to avoid overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout.
What do you feel the need for in terms of support to feel nourished, renewed and restore your inner reserves?
"The deteriorating state of Earth and people signals that we and the environment are at risk.
Our thinking is excessively separated from nature within and around us.
We must consciously reunite our mind with natural systems and begin to co-create with nature.
Doing nature reconnecting activities helps make this happen.
They offer an urgently needed service and vast economic benefits.
Interestingly, the word for breathing and sharing spirit together is 'conspire.'
Shouldn't we learn how to conspire to support life and our lives on Earth, rather than dance on the deck of our sinking ship?"
- Dr. Michael Cohen, Project NatureConnect (The Secrets-of-Nature Attractions Trail)
The birth of the S.O.S project:
Sustainability of Self as part of a whole Living Organism
Is what I am feeling normal?
I asked myself that question in 2014. We live in unprecedented times and we are the first generation to live with the existential threat of systems collapse and our species extinction. Feeling the threats of climate change and the consequences of systems collapse naturally involves uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. We may feel fear, anger, anxiety, withdrawal, overwhelm, depression, guilt, shame, grief, and helplessness. Naturally it is normal to feel these uncomfortable sensations.
We can view uncomfortable sensations as messages, our body has a brilliant and effective alert system!
I thought the world was crazy behaving as if everything was normal. The focus on 'Climate Change' uncomfortable emotions originated from personal, challenging feelings and transitioned through many emotional and ecological states. I researched and studied climate change and planetary systems, read climate scientist letters and articles predicting increased impacts on human and planetary health. I researched how people, especially climate scientists maintained their wellbeing. I had no one to talk with, my relationships suffered, my mental and physical health suffered, the psychologists I spoke with didn't provide the support I needed. Meanwhile, alone, I tried to make sense of my feelings and desire to know why no one was talking about this issue.
With nature as my guide, support, and my teacher, Ecopsychology and eco-art therapy studies provided direct experiences with nature's wisdom to maintain my focus, wellbeing and resilience.
I decided to change my Applied Ecopsychology Masters thesis to focus on nature-connecting practices for our wellbeing and resilience because ecopsychology and eco-art therapy studies became my support system, the only things keeping me grounded and sane during those days.
Some common themes emerged in research which appeared vital to our wellbeing:
We have to express ourselves, speak about how we are feel, be heard and feel supported
We need relationships with like-minded people and a sense of community
Taking constructive actions appeared to be the best immediate antidotes for despair and the sense of hopelessness. This however needs to be balanced with self care/regenerative practices otherwise burnout is possible.
I searched the internet and found Climate for Change whose mission is to create the social climate in Australia for effective action on climate change.
I immediately signed up to be a volunteer facilitator which was a huge challenge for me as I am naturally more introverted. I knew though one thing lacking in my life was direct actions to try to mitigate the damage. Through having conversations in our community and with other C4C members, I found immense relief and found out that I was not alone with symptoms of “eco-anxiety.” I learned about resistance, denial, and our coping mechanisms, including not talking about it. I often heard people say they felt like they were on an ‘emotional roller-coaster’ struggling with balancing actions and emotions, getting burnt out, and feeling overwhelmed, loss, grief, isolated, frustrated, and angry - perfectly normal reactions to the threats.
I learnt many people choose not to talk about planetary and ecological systems collapse for many reasons; they were afraid of the reactions from others about talking about 'the elephant in the room', didn't know how to verbalize their feelings and concerns, didn't want to bring others down, or would rather detach from the thoughts and feelings that brought up. It was too scary... A great question we learnt from respected social researcher Rebecca Huntley was to ask; "What is it about Climate Change that turns you off, upsets you, makes you turn away?" It is useful to know and understand the psychological and/or emotional blocks to communicate more effectively and meet the person on a common ground. We may plant a seed and allow the person to start processing and feeling so they can make sense of the science and their related feelings.
I realised a safe and supportive space was missing in our community
Something was seriously lacking in our community; the need for nurturing, safe spaces to voice, share and acknowledge the associated feelings, and opportunities for regular regenerative moments to transform these sensations to maintain our wellbeing and build our resilience.
4-years after I questioned myself if my feelings were normal, S.O.S. (Sustainability of Self as part of a whole living organism) was born as my Applied Ecopsychology Masters research project. I often incorporate an eco-art therapy component as it helps us to visually represent what we may not be able to articulate. It takes us to a subliminal level through multi-sensing experiences that deepening our ecological awareness and we respond with reflection and creativity.
I began with testing the concept with a couple of small groups with a psychologist friend, then moved into other various 'peer support-style' groups based on my personal transition from despair to engaged and energised empowerment, regular ecopsychology and eco-art practices, and tapping into my mental health nursing skills. These groups provide places for being heard, skills for maintaining well-being, building resilience and community connectedness.
We live in a multifaceted world, we each have a calling in the roles we play. One of my primary roles is to provide SOS so people sense support, relaxation and community connections. They then feel rejuvenated and renewed purpose to do the work they feel compelled to do towards restoring our planet to a safer climate for all of life on Earth.
I understand to change the physical unjust systems we live in, we need to speak up and be active within our communities and with our govt against the unjust risk to lives with the current climate change trajectory. Therefore, I remain active with C4C as they provide great ongoing training and support and I'm kept up to date with current climate issues, solutions and meaningful actions I can take within a couple of hours each month.
I practice sacred activism, allowing our Earth to flow through me, coming form love, appreciation and the concept of reciprocal relationships. I feel a great sense of purpose in having constructive conversations for our collective understanding and healing, to prepare for more challenging days, and for our sustained capacity to be a part of mitigating damage. I also want my kids and future generations to know I am doing what I can that may lead to restoring our planet to a safer climate for life to thrive on our Earth.
“The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open, there will be room for the world to heal.” - Joanna Macy
Ecopsychology examines how our disconnectedness as a species, and thinking we are separate from Nature has created Earth-separated behaviours reflected in anthropocentric climate change. Vulnerable states of planetary imbalance threaten many species including our own and this is reflected within us with uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Many of us are experiencing a complex range of thoughts and emotions. Disharmony in physical, social, psychological and emotional health is evident and predicted to rise as we witness, or are subject to greater consequences of ecological and societal collapse. We need places and spaces to process what is happening in our world and within us, to build relationships, wellbeing and resilience.
One last reason why I feel it is important to keep having conversations and processing our uncomfortable sensations ...
A few year ago, my closest friend was diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease. I was blessed to be with her at her passing and we had 16-months of the most intense and beautiful experiences amongst the pain and suffering while she was living with MND. We didn't live in denial, distractration, wishful-thinking or bargaining. It was a blessing to live fully present in this beautiful opportunity of being fully present to our love, relationship and the reality of the situation. Our relationship reached new depths, a more beautiful authentic relationship with acceptance, richness, gratitude, deep love and connection. Had she passed away suddenly, I would have been in shock, so much would have been unsaid, I would not have had the opportunity to go to such beautiful depths within a human relationship. We had time to prepare together, discuss what was the most important things in life are... and plan her transitioning.
I relate this experience to the ecological and climate crisis. We have a finite amount of time to really live our lives, prepare for more challenges, and attempt to mitigate the consequences by our actions buying time to find possible solutions. We are gifted with the scientific projections; an opportunity to live like never before, heart-felt, with purpose, gratitude, acceptance, beauty, joy, deeper more meaningful relationships with self, others and our planet.
Rather than living with hope as a passive, projected future scenario, we accept the challenges and science, acknowledge our emotional and psychological blocks, and can transition to the space of beautiful, joyful acceptance. From here, actions answer the calling to act for and from our Earth, coming from love and appreciation. This is a regenerative place to view and act from, strengthened by nature and relationships with like-minded people.
Let's co-create ‘the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.’ - Charles Eisenstein
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