Reposted from The Work That Reconnects Network founded by Joanna Macy
“Truly the blessed gods have proclaimed a most beautiful secret: death comes not as a curse but as a blessing to men.”
– Ancient Greek Epitaph from Eleusis
The pace of climate change continues to accelerate, and it now appears inevitable that the Great Anthropocentric Extinction currently unfolding will include the end of life as we know it. Characterizing this ‘Great Dying’ as equivalent to a terminal diagnosis for the human race, and assuming an ecopsychological perspective that sees a close relationship between planetary health and mental health, the author applies the stages of grief to this Great Dying, exploring connections retroactively and prospectively between societal mental health trends in the U.S., our awareness of the severity of the threat we pose to the planet, and the stages of grieving the loss of life, and questions the role mental health professionals should play in this context. Looking ahead from this same perspective, the author asks if it is possible to alleviate the pain and suffering that will be associated with the widespread extinctions, mass mortality, and forced migrations that are anticipated by scientific experts as a result of climate disruptions, beginning with the idea of what a “good death” would look like in relation to the end of life as we know it, applying principles from hospice and palliative care. Finally, he offers a hopeful vision that, with an expanding planetary hospice movement and appropriate containing myths, it might be possible to re-cast this Great Dying as a difficult, but spiritually progressive, death/rebirth experience for homo sapiens. Download Planetary Hospice.pdf (430KB).
Zhiwa Woodbury is a long time dharma practitioner, hospice provider, and environmental attorney. He presently serves residents at Zen Hospice Project and is teaching Buddhist Theories of Self, Mind & Nature while completing an M.A. in East/West Psychology at California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Uncivilisation festival is organized by The Dark Mountain Project, “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself, [Who] see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unraveling, and [who] want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.”
At this year’s Uncivilisation festival Andreas Kornevall is supervising the building of a ‘Life Cairn‘ modeled on the one pictured here that he and Peter Owen Jones started in 2011. (from the FB page) “A Life Cairn is raised in recognition and honour for all the species of flora and fauna – mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, crustaceans, arachnids, trees, lichens and plants of all kinds, that have been rendered extinct at human hands.” The Life Cairn is a sibling to Joanna Macy’s Cairn of Mourning, part of her practice called ‘Honoring our Pain for the World’ from her Work that Reconnects.
Macy’s work teaches that the process of waking up to the reality we face is a spiral that takes us through 4 stages – and that it can be a one time experience or an ongoing one that we continually move through. Gratitude, Honoring our pain, Seeing with new eyes, and Going forth are the stages for the work.
Mourning is part of acknowledging our pain. Uncertainty is now the horizon line for an ever increasing part of the human community, especially those of us who have been immune and sheltered from much of the chaos and destruction that we have been ignorant of or have refused to acknowledge. This uncertainty and the destruction of the world are in fact intertwined as the reality we thought we once knew is unraveling. The second step toward waking up may be just to acknowledge that there is something to be mourned. There is something lost that cannot be retrieved. It might be our view of the world or our place in it. There is a wild part of us that has died along with the other wild things that are no longer here. As Andreas writes, “The wild is caught in a fireblaze, the flames seem too high to stop. If we cannot grieve for all that is being lost in the wild, then it was never loved.”
Rima Staines captures this feeling succinctly with her cover art for the ‘From the Mourning of the World’ LP, A Dark Mountain music project.
She writes that the world mourns and, “from her tears grows music: music to wail and sing out and bow and strum and beat out the thrum of our griefs. And from the music grow green leaves, spiraling their new life from the alchemy of tears.”
Through these tears will we grow fresh eyes? What world will those eyes envision, within us and without? There will be many hard questions to come.