Dear Fellow Earthlings…

By Lisa Banu

June 25, 2024 at 8:00 AM

A heartfelt note from another inhabitant of Earth, reaching out in solidarity.

Monthly letter from the director of inspiration focusing on climate change and mental health.

This month’s moment of eco-inspiration is courtesy of the recently published, “The Weight of Nature: How a Changing Climate Changes Our Brains.” Here, Clayton Aldern, a neuroscientist turned journalist unrolls an unflinchingly wide and uncomfortably long list of all that is already lost due to climate change. The weight is crippling and sometimes apocalyptic. Aldern is bravely defiant in his willingness to quantify and imagine the already operative devastation within us, within our brains. At this very moment, your brain and my brain patterns are changing to adjust with changing climate patterns. In survival mode, we are angrier, sadder, and dumber. Note the tense: we ARE, not will be.


You might be asking where’s the inspiration in this?


My suggestion of inspiration is a not a product of toxic positivity that denies loss and rushes into a restless fix-it mode. Neither am I suggesting that resilient connectivity will save humanity. The book reminds us that our experiences are rarely composed of stark and simple oppositions. It reminds me that the complexity is where inspiration lay dormant.


Walk with me through an example from grief counseling. One of the most difficult stages of narrative grief counseling is asking a griever to construct a loss timeline that spans their lifetime. Asking someone to account for ALL the losses experienced from the death of a beloved pet to a first breakup to a loss of a loved one feels like a cruel punishment. Voicing the hurt can feel like a betrayal of all the effort to keep the shame of loss secret. Drawing the timeline with vertical marks of hurt can feel overwhelming in the fear of remaining buried in loss. I’m often asked, what good would listing or drawing hurts do? The exercise is not about action or feeling good. An honest accounting of loss empowers the griever with the courage see themselves wholly, compassionately without shame. They may feel bigger even if broken. Braver, even if sad. Compassionate, even if angry. An aware appraisal allows us to see and show the complex texture of lives without reducing it to preconceived ideas of ourselves, whether imposed or self-assigned. In the same way, Aldern shows us experienced examples of hurtful climate change, starting within us, in our brains. The shift in perspective makes climate change an internal and present reality instead of an abstractly distant anxiety. 


For me, “The Weight of Nature” is a collective loss graph. Woven within Aldern’s accounts of change and loss, are coping strategies and soft suggestions. He does not, however, dwell on these suggestions. A focus on resilience and recovery is not the tone. The soft wisps of inspiration waft up through the vividly sharp edges of lost safety, health, language and home. To tend and follow these wisps become our challenge and inspiration. 


How is climate change affecting you? Let us bravely count the ways. Aldern mentions at least ten strategies worth highlighting as ways to notice and account for the weight of nature changing within. All these options call us to confront climate change through mindful, embodied, creative and social ways. 


1. Mindfulness techniques are often suggested as a skill to stay embodied despite moments of anxious overthinking. It guides the mind back to safety by focusing on the consistency of breath and the body sensations of touch, sound, taste, feel and sight. 


2. CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] is a therapeutic technique that helps expose patterns of connection between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  


3. EMDR [Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy] is based on the idea that staying present through eye movement while remembering negative experiences helps rewire our tendency to become “stuck” in past negative experiences. 


4. Journaling helps document changes you might be experiencing along with your environment. By externalizing and voicing your observations and feelings, you no longer become isolated in them. 


5. Forest bathing, a practice originating in Japan highlights time spent in nature as an immersive way to return to our sensations of a deep connection with earth. 


6. Deep time refers to slowing down long enough to notice and again return to embodied experience. Limiting news, social media and information consumption can help minimize the whirlwind of info-whelm. 


7. Citizen science, much like journaling, is a process of documenting change as experienced by a curious and compassionate earthling. 


8. Storytelling is the practice of sharing and collecting our transformative experiences on a changing earth. 


9. Grieving is a willingness to honor the loss and hurt of contradictory and complex feelings caused by a changing climate. Displacement due to climate change is an ever-increasing reality. Creating grief rituals can help create a community of shared concern. Maybe you are mourning a way of life, maybe a species, maybe a seasonal rhythm, maybe the beauty of the coral reef?


10. Recognizing homesickness defined as solastalgia, opposed to nostalgia, for a lost place instead of a time. What places have you lost and long for?


All the above are ways to document and validate climate change as experienced within us. Ultimately this priority of embodied and lived experience points to the moment of inspiration offered by “The Weight of Nature.” Regardless of whether you read the book, consider the ways you are already experiencing climate change as honoring life lived at this pivotal moment in human history. 


Let’s end with the Aldern’s introductory words, 

“We know that climate change bears on memory systems and cognition and impulsive aggression. We know it infuses the water and air with neurotoxins; that it increases the range of brain-disease vectors; that extreme weather can spur post-traumatic stress disorder. We know that a changing climate can act intimately on our sensory systems. systems. It can seed anxiety and depression. It can corrupt language and, by extension, our perception of reality. The waves of the climate crisis are already bearing down, whether we accept it as fact or not. The question is: How will we stay above water?


I submit, perhaps a bit too earnestly for a book I’m encouraging you to take seriously, that we have to keep each other afloat. There is room on the lifeboat. Much of this text assumes an understanding of the world reaching inward. But we can reach out too, against the weight of the wave, and not just in a blind grope. People caused the climate crisis and its resulting neurological effects, and it will be people, in solidarity, who reverse it. It will be people who foster resilience in one another.”


Wishing you self-aware ease, 


Lisa 

Director of Inspiration – Ecomilli, Inc. 


Lisa Banu
Lisa Banu

As the director of inspiration at Ecomilli, Lisa relies on her experience as a grief and anxiety counselor to host an inclusive, empowering, and inspiring conversation about climate change.

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