A Meeting in Tenderness

October 16, 2019

I recently was at a Deep Adaptation gathering in western Massachusetts. Deep Adaptation is based on the writings and talks of Jem Bendell who is a professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom. About three years ago, he took a sabbatical from his University work to grapple with the undeniable climate data – data that reveals it is very unlikely we are going to avert a climate or societal collapse of catastrophic proportions. From that deep grappling, he wrote a long paper called, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” that went viral and started a whole “movement” – online forums where people can dialogue and express their responses, online interviews with Jem Bendell and others who are on a similar wavelength and in person gatherings which are starting to happen throughout the world. He touched into a dormant awareness that once articulated resonated deeply and brought to the surface what many were consciously or unconsciously feeling.

It’s a huge challenge to face into this uncertain future.

When I first started thinking about this, it was hard (and still is) because you are looking at the world as you have always known it. There are assumptions made about our planet that it would always be here; about the birds and animals that would always be here; about the weather and seasons that were, to some degree, predictable and reliable and about a future that was always unknown and yet there were still many knowables… and that is all thrown up in the air.

You feel a scream inside. No, it can’t be true. Impossible. It can’t be true.

And yet it is true. Our brains have such difficulty facing this full on.

I think we need each other to do that; at least for many of us.

Jem Bendell encourages us to initially just stop and let it in. Stop the doing and give ourselves the space to let in the sorrow, the fear, the anxiety, the disbelief, the anger – the horror and pain.

None of us are experts in this field. And it doesn’t mean we don’t act anymore, but by facing into this reality – and it certainly, at least in my experience, is not a one moment event – it’s ongoing in the same way that grieving is ongoing – it informs us and reconfigures our priorities. It highlights our values and hopefully highlights the need to start preparing for the future. That requires many hearts and minds coming together.

Jem Bendell recently said: “The longer we refuse to talk about climate change as already here and screwing with our way of life—because we don’t want to think like that because it’s too frightening or will somehow demotivate people—the less time we have to reduce harm.”

Going back to this gathering, we first saw a short video with Jem Bendell and then we broke into smaller groups that were self-directed; we chose what we wanted to talk about and then met together in smaller configurations.

I met with only one other person and our topic was: What feelings am I avoiding? And a subsidiary topic was: How can I face into Climate Collapse? We spoke very intimately and covered a wide range of topics and questions – touched upon our relationship to our own death as well as the death of the planet and everything we have ever known. We touched on how hard it is to let ourselves truly care that deeply because it hurts so much. We touched on how big and unknown this climate collapse is so that we don’t even know what we need to know to face this. And in the end, we both felt immersed in what only could be called a meeting in tenderness. Somehow that experience of tenderness; vulnerability; brought us to an answer that we could not even articulate. A raw place where so much is felt and can’t be put into words, but one knows that we are touching into something very deep and meaningful.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this so evocatively, Judy… such a deeply human experience of our vulnerability in the face of such a huge and often terrifying unknown.

    1. As i read this post Judy what emerged was the immeasurable depth of love being revealed in that meeting of tenderness and vulnerability . Thank you for sharing.

      1. Yes, Jude, it stops you “in your tracks.” Lovely to hear your voice. Judy

    1. How beautiful Judy and beautifully written. Your last paragraph – the answer that can’t be put into words – by being together in reality and truth, not hiding, not rushing away, not afraid somehow of fear, sorrow, uncertainty and the love we are now discovering has been there all along for being part of the earth…thank you for stopping to write this!

      1. And thank you Uli for expressing so beautifully “the answer that can’t be put into words.” Love, Judy

    1. Cheer up. If we take care of of Nature we will have it. Let each make an expert of themselves and set to work. For me it’s butterflies and they had a good summer in the garden. One can always plant trees.

    1. Dear Judy, Thank you for a very poignant and sensitive article about your recent meeting in tenderness. You convey the cataclysmic situation facing humanity, what we are doing to the world, and the critical question “how do we face this”. I like how you set the context of Deep Adaptation and Jem Bendell’s research for those of us who are new to his work. So much to contemplate and hold in our hearts.

      I read a very relevant article in the Guardian yesterday, relating to facing into climate and societal collapse. The article is called, “Doubting Death: how our brains shield us from mortal death” by Ian Sample, Science editor. He writes about the research of Yair Dor-Ziderman, Bar Ilan University Israel.

      1. Thank you Caragh and also thank you for telling me about this article by Ian Sample. I will definitely read it. Love, Judy

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