updated May 2023
It’s rough out there right now.
Between a resurgent pandemic, bushfire memories when the temperature rises, the perpetual march of ‘progress’ that often means loss of natural space, and a too slow pace in the evolution toward addressing climate change and creating sustainable systems. On good days, it’s easy to see the multitude of volunteers and groups active to improve the community and leave a legacy. On bad days, there may be a background unease and worry for the future. Sometimes our thoughts may be accompanied by strong emotion such as helplessness, anger, guilt, shame, panic, a sense of failure or even just intense awareness.
Perhaps we all suffer occasionally from eco-grief. Defined by academics Cunsolo & Ellis as “...the sadness felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”
There’s still no clarity on what to call these feelings common to modern life: eco-anxiety? eco-healing? climate grief?
A local group started in late 2021 to come together to share and wrestle with thoughts and feelings about the state of the natural world we live in. The Eco-resiliency Circle meets monthly under the auspices of the Port Environment Centre.
“We chose eco-resiliency in the name, recognizing the interplay between grief, joy and hope in the human experience, and to recognize that we can help each other to be resilient.”
You are welcome to join us for 90 minutes on a weeknight as we learn the balance of positivity and realism in meeting our Port Adelaide neighbours and concerned citizenry from across Adelaide.
PEC volunteer Barb Koth facilitated the first few small group meetings (free), grown now to an interest group of around 100 persons. Barb shared ideas on how the group might proceed after talking to eco-grief coordinators in Canada, the US and UK, with additional group input provided at the first meeting. Port Adelaide creative artist Dan Havey and GP Dr. Eleanor Evans (Doctors for the Environment) round out the facilitator team, with lots of attention to duty of care in terms of wellbeing and mental health. We emphasise that these sessions do not offer therapeutic help and encourage people to access trained professional help if needed. A list of support organisations and information can be accessed here.
We’ve had 12 face-to-face meetings at the riverside Folklore Café (since starting in October 2021), and occasionally alternate with zoom sessions.
Each circle is different: in the kickoff months we got to know each other and our expectations, next we focused on “how are you doing?” with a sharing circle to speak to our emotions and concerns about the natural world, and celebrated the summer solstice and focused on stress reduction for the holidays. In the new year (2023) we’ve shared bookclub-style reactions to an inspiring reading, did forest bathing on the deck at Folklore and wandered mindfully around Hart’s Mill. One of the guiding principles we agreed on was that leadership responsibility and life/professional skills would be shared among participants when they were ready, meaning that future agendas are flexible as members contribute. Another intention is not just to sit, but to make body movement important.
Activities so far.
There is a wealth of expertise within group members and also externally. Already we have:
- Held an improv percussion circle as part of a ‘letting go’ ceremony on the deck over the river
- Discussions about our meanings and rituals of summer
- Facilitated songwriting with Barkindji musician Nancy Bates over several gatherings (see below)
- A bookclub-like discussion of several chapters from ‘Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants’
- Homage to trees, including nature journaling
- Learned hand dancing
- Done a guided meditation from the book ‘Sand Talk’ about Aboriginal ways of viewing the world (Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Jason Yunkaporta)
- Shared inspiring music (e.g. Appalachia Rising’s ‘I am Resilient,’ MaMuse’s ‘I am Wild,’ Judy Small’s ‘One Voice in the Crowd,’ Sam Buckingham’s ‘Something More’)
- A young member facilitated a poetry session where we did readings, and there was also a new song performed and art displayed
- A Chinese tea ceremony by candlelight
- Created an embroidery work under the theme of mindfulness
- On-line pairs answering questions about our deep feelings regarding the state of the world
- Pretending we were wild animals and learned our neighbourhood habitats
- Partnered with Big Heart Adventures and Naturehood, Nurturehood to lead the circle
- Surrender and uncertainty exercises under the Good Grief framework
- Practiced Nine Pacifying Breaths
- Mimicking the sounds of a forest progressing from dawn to midday to dusk and sunset
“We laughed that if a particular activity isn’t your vibe, in a half hour we’ll be doing something different, so we’re learning as we go.”
We’re presently looking to record the song ‘Find Our Way Back to the Fire’ which the group drafted under the guidance of local Songwoman Nancy Bates. Here’s a recording of us just after we first learned the song with Nancy’s melody and lyric refinement. We’ve started to sing it at the beginning of each circle to ground ourselves and centre our intentions. Here is the chorus:
- Ancestors call us back to the fire.
- Our feet on the Earth she gathers her choir.
- And we are together, in this love and this light.
- Out of the darkness, back to the fire.
- Let’s find our way back to the fire.
Another assumption is that sharing feelings is separate from activism, so that while many of us are engaged in causes or volunteerism, this is not the forum to discuss policy or strategy advocacy – but rather our emotional reactions to policy and strategy as it plays out. We have an informal code of conduct about confidentiality and nonjudgement. Some people come regularly, others pop in as they can.
The only constant at each circle is time for a check-in about how people are feeling about environmental and social changes going on around us.
“We have felt inspired, recharged, moved, validated and comforted at some point at every session so far.”
Please join us for a session to see if this is something you would like to be part of more regularly. We’re also happy to talk if you wish to find out more. Send any questions or a request to be included on the Eco-resiliency Circle email list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Eco-Resiliency Circle is a volunteer led and community driven project, supported by the Port Environment Centre.
There’s a rich pool of resources available to the group going forward. An Adelaide-specific publication has been prepared by Barb Koth about eco-grief and the local network, and is available online here. That material has been summarized into a booklet available here via the PEC website.
If this blog has sparked your interest in the topic, the excellent Facebook page Climate Grief and Anxiety – Resources is administered by an Adelaidean.
Two fundamental resources in the emergent field are Active Hope author Joannna Macy’s ‘Work That Reconnects’ and the Good Grief Network ‘10 Steps to Personal Resilience and Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate’.
Curious about this striking image?
This image was taken by Melissa Hellwig from Naturehood Nurturehood of a beautiful mandala she created.
Naturehood Nurturehood, in Adelaide, seeks to restore our relationship with nature – and one another.