The 12 Steps for Climate Grief: Steps 7-9

What follows are the 12 steps I created for ClimateGriefGroup.org. I adapted these from the 10 steps used by the Good Grief Network.


Step 7: Move Beyond Thinking

Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know

our part is not knowing,

but looking, and touching, and loving,

which is the way I walked on

— Mary Oliver

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings. But the truth is that, more often than not, we make our decisions based on emotion, instinct, and cognitive biases, and then rationalize our decisions after the fact. But as deep ecologist Paul Kingsnorth explains, this isn’t necessarily a limitation.

“Our human relationship to the rest of nature is not akin to the analysis of bacteria in a petri dish; it is more like the complex, love-hate relationship we might have with lovers or parents or siblings. It is who we are, unspoken and felt and frustrating and inspiring and vital and impossible to peer-review. You can reach part of it with the analytical mind, but the rest will remain buried in the ancient woodland floor of human evolution and in the depths of our old ape brains, which see in pictures and think in stories. Civilization has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.”

There’s nothing wrong with thinking, but sometimes thinking turns into ruminating, which can lead to anxiety and depression. There are some problems we can’t think our way out of–we have to feel our way instead, using our whole selves, including our animal brains and all of our senses. This is what Kingsnorth seems to mean when he writes:

I am leaving on a pilgrimage to find what I left behind in the jungles and by the cold campfires and in the parts of my head and my heart that I have been skirting around because I have been busy fragmenting the world in order to save it; busy believing it is mine to save. I am going to listen to the wind and see what it tells me, or whether it tells me anything at all.

Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist”


Step 8: Take Breaks and Rest

“Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel–intuit–work out what is right for you, and what nature might need from you. …. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.”

— Paul Kingsnorth, “Dark Ecology”

To a lot of people, withdrawing sounds like giving up. For those still operating within the paradigm of mainstream environmentalism, there are only two options, “fighting” and “giving up”. But that’s a false dichotomy. Withdrawing doesn’t mean giving up, and it doesn’t mean doing nothing. Withdrawing is about pulling back to a space where you can breathe, a space to experience the world around you again, to remember what it is you are trying to save, to realize what you do and do not have the power to do, and to hear the call of the world, to hear whatever it is that you are being called you to at this time and place.


Step 9: Express Gratitude

“Thank you” is the best prayer anyone can say.

— Alice Walker

Gratitude is often talked about as something touchy-feely or superfluous. Sometimes it is suggested that gratitude is inappropriate in a world where so much is wrong and that feeing grateful is an obstacle to change. But gratitude can exist alongside an awareness of wrong and a desire for change. We can celebrate our wins while also grieving our losses and determining to help make things better. Gratitude is healing too. It eases pain and grief, helping to renew us and make us stronger for the next struggle. Remember:

You are alive.

The earth is here.

You are loved.

There is still beauty.

— John Halstead

To be continued …

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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