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If We Have No Future, Why Grieve?

If We Have No Future, Why Grieve? thumbnail

Edward Abbey famously said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” Clearly, if we find ourselves engulfed in despair, anger, fear, or any other painful emotion, one way to move through it is to “minimize” it on the screen of our emotional operating system and take action on behalf of whatever cause is calling us. What is more, it is not enough to just feel our feelings about the obscenity of planetary pillage that the human species has wrought. Even though our action cannot undo it or reverse the inevitable, it is the least we can do in response to environmental ecocide, and it is a means of practicing good manners toward all of the species that have not yet vanished.


That said, it is equally irresponsible to take action while repressing, ignoring, or minimizing our feelings. This essay attempts to address why this is so.


First, it is precisely because of denying our emotional response to the miracle of life on Earth that we are in the process of eliminating it. It is likely that as children, we experienced moments, perhaps even hours or days, of enchantment with the natural world. Although we may have known intellectually that we aren’t actually frogs, birds, bugs, flowers, or streams, our physical bodies may have felt as if we were. We may have become so immersed with these living beings that we experienced ourselves as part of them. That experience, or what Carl Jung called participation mystique, is what people of all ages in ancient cultures experienced continuously. The most excruciating anguish of all when indigenous cultures are uprooted, conquered, and forced to assimilate into modern cultures is the physical, emotional, and spiritual sense of union with the ecosystems which is brutally violated in the process.


Adults in modern culture rarely experience a visceral sense of connection with the Earth, and the absence of that experience impairs our ability to recognize its limits. If I don’t feel another human being in my space, I am almost certain to transgress their boundary. Likewise, if I do not feel the physical and spiritual presence of nature—in fact, if I do not recognize that I am not a part of nature but that I am nature, my exploitation of it is guaranteed.


What is more, early on, ancient cultures developed sophisticated rituals for coping with loss. Whether the loss of a member of the village or a member of the Earth community, these cultures recognized that loss is a part of life—and that grieving loss is healing for the individual and for the community. Likewise, they came to understand that when losses aren’t properly grieved, the people experiencing them become toxic to the community.


I believe there is enormous wisdom in this perspective—wisdom that has withstood the test of time. Enter any city or community in the modern world, and one finds people carrying unfathomable quantities of grief. We all know the messages the culture gives us about grief: It’s a private matter; don’t burden others with your grief; grief shows your weakness; stay strong; real men don’t cry; keep busy; get over it; put it behind you; it’s time to move on because life goes on; if you grieve too much or even just a little, you’ll get stuck in it; if you don’t get over it, you’ll get depressed—and on and on ad nauseum. Meanwhile, none of the grief gets metabolized, and as a result, it invariably becomes toxic to one’s own body and psyche and to the community.


The world recently witnessed an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist young man against nine African Americans. If you were fortunate enough to see some footage of the black community’s response to the tragedy, you undoubtedly saw black people wailing, screaming, crying loudly, and behaving in a desperate, “disorderly” fashion. That’s because this is a community that knows how to grieve. Unlike most white communities responding to similar carnage, the sorrow of the black community is generally not sanitized or well-behaved.


Moreover, this is a community that one moment can wail and cry out in grief and in the next moment, pick up the protest placard and march in the streets for justice.


Where is it written that we must either grieve or take action?


Furthermore, if we only take action, the fire of our activism can easily become an inferno that burns us out and drives us into egoistic action that lacks heart and may even be injurious to ourselves and the community. The fire must be balanced with the tears of heartbreak because only in heartbreak do we find our compassion and our deepest humanity. And in fact, it may be that discovering the depths of our humanity is the most important outcome any of us can experience as we meet our demise. In other words, through consciously grieving, we discover richer, sweeter, and more robust layers of love than we have ever known.


But there is yet another reason to grieve regardless of what the future holds or doesn’t hold. Cultures that understand the power of conscious grieving have arrived at their understanding for one reason beyond all others, and that is the capacity of grieving together to bond the hearts of individuals by way of their sorrow. As we descend into the well of grief together, we discover that we have never been and never will be separate. Could this be the missing piece in those many communities we hear about that fall apart or cannot sustain the differences between their members? It may be that when grieving replaces groundrules, love happens, and from it, unprecedented solidarity.


I recently had the privilege of facilitating a grief weekend workshop in Providence, Rhode Island in which 15 people gathered for three days to engage in deep, conscious grieving. Each time I facilitate a grief workshop, I am in awe of what happens when people do this work, and I find myself challenged to verbalize what happens in me as I witness the power of such an event. I touch into something timeless that issues from ancient memory and that has never been more relevant to the future than in the present moment.


We need each other’s grief as food for the soul—as medicine for the community. And it may be that the Earth community itself is asking us to grieve for the same reason. After all, if we will not grieve Gaia’s destruction, who will?


Conscious grieving in a safe, supportive container is anything but passive, pointless work. In fact, it is the most consequential and meaningful work we can be doing in the era of extinction. Yes, action is the antidote to despair, and as Griefwalker Stephen Jenkinson writes:

Here’s the revolution: What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway? Grief and the love of life are twins, natural human skills that can be learned first by being on the receiving end and feeling worthy of them, later by practicing them when you run short of understanding. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act.

34 Comments on "If We Have No Future, Why Grieve?"

  1. Lawfish1964 on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 2:12 pm 

    What this has to do with peak oil, I have no clue.

  2. BobInget on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 2:13 pm 

    Loved Jon Stewart’s l comeback to GOP supporters who insist keeping Confederate flags flying is preserving history.

    Who fight gun control as a radical notion.

    Who damn a persons right to love another of the same sex.

    Who insist climate changes are ‘normal’.

    “Think of Climate Change as ‘Preserving Traditional Sea Levels’

    This is a historic week.

  3. green_achers on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 4:11 pm 

    Well, anyone that starts an article with ab Edward Abbey quote is worth considering, anyway.

  4. Apneaman on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 5:08 pm 

    The Human Experiment is Probably Coming to an End

    “It’s the Multiplicity of known and yet unknown Interventions, along with Humanity’s Collective Heartlessness and Irrationality, that Virtually Guarantee Human Extinction

    Most pessimistic scholars base their predictions of impending environmental holocaust on a single technology. Some climate disruption experts, for instance, believe that it’s already game over for humanity. Other scholars, looking at the prospects of an all-out nuclear war, are convinced that it is precisely such a war that would spell our doom.”

  5. Davy on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 5:30 pm 

    Ape man, I see us entering a period of food production failures from systematic disruptions and climate disruptions. Food is the key. Once global food disruptions occur it is a slippery slope to chaos with 7BIL people on this small planet.

  6. GregT on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 5:35 pm 

    “What this has to do with peak oil, I have no clue.”

    If you’re under about the age of 60, you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.

  7. roman on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 7:11 pm 

    Bobby, you’ll get plenty same-sex loving in the cumming years.

  8. Apneaman on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 7:29 pm 

    It’s Not Just Sao Paulo — Much of South America and Caribbean Swelters Under Extreme Drought

    “In Sao Paulo today, a Latin American megalopolis that is now home to 20 million people, public water supplies are cut off for as long as three days at a time. But despite this draconian rationing, the Cantareira Reservoir sits at 9 percent below dead pool. A level so low that utility managers had to install new pipes into the reservoir bottom to tap water supply dregs. A controversial policy due to the fact that drawing water from so low in the pool both results in fish kills and in much more polluted water going into rivers (like the foaming Tiete) and the drinking and bathing supply.”

  9. Makati1 on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 8:11 pm 

    Always better to prepare for the worse and hope it never happens. I do not see the human species lasting past 2100 except, possibly, as ragged bands of hunter-gatherers, if at all. The climates are changing faster than even the most pessimistic predicted and the chance of a planet killer nuclear war is closer than ever in history. Either, or both, will be enough to ensure that the current generations will be the last.

    I’m not sure what a psychology article has to do do with PO. It’s just another “hopey/feely” article and a paycheck for the author. Everyone grieves in their own way and according to their culture. But then, America has no culture, just drugs.

  10. Rodster on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 10:26 pm 

    “The climates are changing faster than even the most pessimistic predicted”

    And Climate Engineering is making things worse.

  11. Makati1 on Fri, 26th Jun 2015 10:26 pm 

    BTW: Maybe this is where we are today?

    “In January 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set their Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight”

    Duck & Cover! lol

  12. Tim on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 12:32 am 

    My friend was taking a class for troubled 16-17yo kids and he planned a gardening activity. During which one of the kids screamed out “what’s this?”

    One of the students had never seen an earthworm. We are already so disconnected to nature. It is too late to reconcile.

  13. Cassie on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 8:44 am 

    “America has no culture; just drugs.”

    Personal attack follows.

    So you are one of the tough ones: no need to touch or feel, no sadness, no pain, no sense of impending loss. Frankly, I think you personally need lots of touchy and feely help.

    Stay the hell in the Phillipines, you low information thinker. Your bashing is too enduring. Are you WANTED? Drug crimes? Theft? Fraud? Not TOO extraditable? Social crimes?

    I suspect we who support you ought to pull your social security check, since we have no culture, just drugs. With no culture , and thus no values, why should you get your retirement checks? That would require we have values, and you know we don’t, right?

    With all your fellow expatriates in the Phillipines I am sure you will be embraced by the citizenry of Manila and loved and respected for your valuable contributions to their flouirishing culture and values, when the oil is gone, the plastic stops (make for cleaner beaches), the planes stop, the ships stop and the purging begins.

    The Phillipines is such a sustainable place, full of warm, touchy feely people who LOVE you. I hope you are right, and not too marbled with typical american fat.

    I Would NOT want you hurt by forcing you to use USD for drugs… or anything else made by the evil empire.

    Good luck with all that.

  14. BobInget on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 10:06 am 

    It’s fear that spoils.

    When a single gun toting madman can kill eight or 39, we’re reminded of Joe Stalins favorite rejoinder. “The death of a single person is a tragedy. The deaths of millions, a statistic.’

  15. Apneaman on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 8:45 pm 

    Western Heat Wave Enters History Books; At Least Five June Records Already Broken; All-Time Records Threatened (FORECAST)

  16. Apneaman on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 8:50 pm 

    Pakistan Heat Wave Kills More Than 1,200; More Dangerous Heat Expected

    “At its peak, the heat wave sent temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, combining with high humidity to make for absolutely brutal conditions.

    Unfortunately, those brutal conditions returned Saturday and will stick around in the days to come, once again raising fears that the death toll could climb.

    “It appears the heat is intensifying again this weekend over the south, and also expanding back into the heavily populated Punjab and northern Pakistan,” said senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

    “An even hotter period is expected in those northern areas during the first few days of July.Where the heat and humidity intersect over the middle and lower Indus River valley, heat index values will continue to reach the 130s over the next week or more, and may exceed 140 degrees at times.”

  17. Apneaman on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 8:52 pm 

    Hot enough? Highway northeast of Seattle is melting

    “Portions of U.S. Highway 2 northeast of Seattle are melting due to hot weather and heavy traffic, and state highway officials’ attempts to repair the melted sections aren’t holding up”

  18. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 9:54 pm 

    Cassie, pretending that humans are something they are not is not going to do anything. Humans are animals that recognize their “self”, nothing more. I suspect that a few other animals have those same abilities, just not as advanced, or maybe they are more advanced. An interesting thought.

    Americans use more self medicating drugs, legal and illegal, like ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’ and ‘pain killers’, than the rest of the world combined. Add in alcohol, tobacco, coffee and sugar, also mood adjusters, and you get a country that cannot look at reality and adjust in a healthy manner. They never will.

    Your resorting to name calling says it all. Maybe you are related to Davy? lol

  19. Makati1 on Sat, 27th Jun 2015 11:05 pm 

    FYI: “Every Friday I drive up the mountain to intern with Keiji Oshima. He’s teaching me about bamboo. Some days the lesson is to sit in a Sasa Veitchi patch and pull weeds, and on others it’s learning the art of splitting bamboo for the purposes of weaving it into baskets. I’m learning how to farm bamboo for the health of the grove. The goal is to produce quality bamboo canes for craft and the table. Bamboo is a way of life that creates a culture. In the United States we don’t have a culture, and I’m pretty sure we don’t want one. There are houses that are lived in on this Earth that are made up entirely of bamboo. That means you can literally live in bamboo, and you can eat it with utensils made of it while you sit in a bamboo chair at a bamboo table in a bamboo house…bamboo! You can do all of that with wood as well, but wood can’t grow 47 inches in 24 hours like Phyllostachy Edulis (moso) can, and good luck trying to eat wood. Bamboo has the highest protein count of any vegetable, but this is not an essay about bamboo, it’s more a lament about the sucking void of an anti-culture that I live in. Quite simply this is therapy for me. Read on at your own emotional risk because I’ve got no warm fuzzies for you about the future.”

    And people ask me why I left the US to live in a bamboo country, lol.

  20. Apneaman on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 12:36 am 

    300+ Wildfires Rage in Alaska

    “The Alaska Division of Forestry reported that as of today there are 317 wildfires burning in the Last Frontier. On Wednesday alone, there were 40 new fires and Thursday saw an additional 28 new fires, bringing the total acreage burned to 624,496 acres.”

    “Alaska is no stranger to wildfires, but climate change has drastically increased the frequency of wildfires. On Wednesday, Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at Climate Central, released a report on how Alaska is entering a new era for wildfires.

    The report says:

    In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, with average temperatures up by nearly three degrees Fahrenheit. By 2050, temperatures are projected to climb an additional two to four degrees, with the Arctic region seeing the most dramatic increases. These rising temperatures are expected to increase wildfire risks in Alaska, just as they have in the rest of the western U.S.

    The report found a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of large fires in the Arctic region in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 1960s. And the total area that these large fires are burning is increasing every year. “In just two years, 2004 and 2005, wildfires burned a larger area than in the 15 years from 1950-1964 combined,” says the report.”

  21. Davy on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 3:38 am 

    Mak said “In the United States we don’t have a culture, and I’m pretty sure we don’t want one.” Piss off Mak with you and your bamboo bullshit and cultural criticism. I get tired of you saying “we” too. You are not an American. You are a low life and WE do not accept you as one of us. The US is full of culture you just don’t want to see it asshole.

  22. Davy on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 3:51 am 

    Mak, it should be obvious many people are tired of your bullshit and believe you to be the name caller. Cassie is just another on the long list who recognize your agenda as an angry old man living on a small social security check in a slum hole apartment in the Philippines. Leave us alone so we can talk about the real issues. You are a one track wonder we have heard and want to retire.

  23. freak on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 9:18 am 

    Ahhh global warming.

  24. Apneaman on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 10:53 am 

    Freak, I can’t recall that episode, I’ll have to dig it up. Now here is the non fiction version put together by a New Zealand blogger. Quite lengthy – Better make popcorn first.

    Global drought

    “Too often we see stories that are restricted to one area. Some of the big stories like drought in California and Brazil;wildfires in Alaska and Siberia; heatwaves in the Indian sub-continent are well documented.

    Other areas are practically forgotten – such as the Middle East and Africa and countries like Sri Lanka

    I have endeavoured to find stories from all the continents to illustrate that global warming is exactly what it says it is – global

    Perhaps the only place less-effected by drought at present is continental Europe.”

  25. Hubbert on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 2:37 pm 

    Focusing on global warming maybe part of the problem. Just about all are problems today are related to population growth, and since no one is really interested in solving this problem, nature will take care of this problem on it’s own.

    Collapse is already taking shape. Only thing you can really do is watch all these poor fools die of hunger and thirst.

  26. Davy on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 2:53 pm 

    Hub said “Only thing you can really do is watch all these poor fools die of hunger and thirst.” I agree Hub but nature is fair about death so your use of “these” should be “us”. I think we are all in this sinking ship rich and poor. Death will visit us all without discrimination.

  27. Hubbert on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 3:21 pm 

    William Gibson seems to have glummed onto this whole collapse model.

  28. Apneaman on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 10:24 pm 

    Lumad climate change activist shot dead

    “MANILA – A Typhoon Pablo survivor-turned activist was killed by suspected military agents in Davao Oriental on June 25.

    Ricky Basig, a leader of the Mandaya tribe of Sitio (sub-village) Kaputian, Mahan-ub village, Baganga, Davao Oriental, was sitting in the veranda of his house at around 6 p.m. when he was gunned down by suspected soldiers of the 67th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, led by a certain “Pfc Maca.”

    Basig was also a member of Barug Katawhan (People Rise), a grassroots group of Typhoon Pablo survivors, which has been at the forefront of exposing government neglect in climate change-affected communities.”

  29. GregT on Sun, 28th Jun 2015 11:22 pm 

    “Collapse is already taking shape. Only thing you can really do is watch all these poor fools die of hunger and thirst.”

    It should be quite entertaining, until the ‘poor fools dying of hunger and thirst’ is you. When that happens, I’m guessing it won’t so entertaining anymore.

  30. Apneaman on Mon, 29th Jun 2015 12:04 am 

    It starts on the periphery and works towards the center. The thin veneer of wealthy techno industrial society will eventually be peeled away and then we will all be on equal footing for the denouement of the short lived planet of the apes. Complex life will be wiped out, yet again and the microbes will rule once more. After millions of years, long after the earth has cleansed itself of our wastes, the cycle may repeat and complex life could rise again and die out and rise and…… It could happen many more times before the planet is finally consumed by the sun or the mother of all meteors hits. It is the history of life on this planet. Are we not history buffs?

  31. Davy on Mon, 29th Jun 2015 2:51 am 

    Yea, Ape Man we live by nature’s acquiescence not by that fantasy called divine human exceptionalism. I recommend us 7BIL humans start considering how we are going to negotiate the coming years of descent. Surely we can establish a level of empathy and understanding to make this less ugly. I know this will not be peace on earth and kumbaya but we are not all mad max either. Our evolution at least within the family, tribe, and small community was about mutual support and empathy. This does not have to be a quick and violent collapse. It is possible we can have a long emergency with empathy. OK, maybe I am delusional but can’t I at least hope?

  32. Apneaman on Mon, 29th Jun 2015 4:02 am 

    I have a bad feeling about it Davy. The apes are highly emotional at the best of times and we are getting into the worst. Look at all the rabid screaming on both sides with the confederate flag fiasco (which is actually the battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia – Christ you can even learn that from watching the Dukes of Hazzard Duh). Of course it’s not really about a flag, it’s always seemingly stupid shit that triggers the anger that has been building for quite some time. I only see a bad moon a rising. For awhile I have been reading lots of calls for violence mostly from right wing commenters and sites. I kinda chuckle at their certainty that their lefty counter parts are a bunch of over educated pussies. I think, oh like Robespierre, Lenin and Mao? The fascists don’t really have anything on those lefty revolutionaries when it comes to spilling blood. Have at er boys. I’ll be on the fence eating popcorn and keeping score.

  33. Davy on Mon, 29th Jun 2015 4:28 am 

    Ape Man, I imagine bad blood will have to purge bad blood. That seems to be the nature of things. The problem today is the ferocity of our killing machines that would awe even Mao. Will we have a world left after the killing stops?

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