Written by my good friend and guest blogger, Uli Nagel
Being with what is True
When my friends heard that I was going to spend a lot of time working on climate change awareness, one of them asked me straight out: isn’t that very depressing? And a therapist asked: how do you deal with working on something that might not be successful or successful enough, the results of which you might never see?
My friend’s question seems upside down to me. Climate change is reality. And most scientists in the field are alarmed at the speed and gravity of the changes it is already bringing – they seem to fall on the more pessimistic side of scientific predictions. So yes, it is painful, frightening, sometimes paralyzing and overwhelming to face this fact. But, the thing is, it is reality. Climate change is a fact. And facing into facts means living in reality.
We lose a lot of energy, I think, keeping the reality of climate change at bay. Yes, it is very challenging to read and hear about it – the more you read, the worse you feel in some ways. But it also wakes me up. Ever since I decided to face into it, it is very clear what is important and what is not. In many ways it is probably similar to facing into the fact that we will die; all our lives are finite and the degree to which we are aware of this fact is often the degree to which we will make conscious and caring choices about how we want to spend our time.
It is the same with climate change, albeit on a planetary, global scale. All of humanity is affected, and even though not all of us are similarly threatened (here, in the Berkshires, we have so far been spared fires, draught, storms and floods), with many lives at risk, reduced or being lost, we all might lose much of what humanity has fought so hard to achieve: social progress, culture, art, medical progress, expanded life spans, cultural tolerance and leisure – in short: civilization as we know it.
It is a big reckoning – so many systems seem to have reached the end of their life, their usefulness, their applicability. The idea of unlimited economic growth at the cost of the earth, unbridled capitalism, unquestioned individualism and a society that sees financial achievement as its major goal. An era is coming to an end
The difficulty lies in how to communicate about this. My friend Judy and I don’t speak much about what we read to other friends. We don’t want to overwhelm people, make them less interested than they already are, or fuel despair.
But really, is that the right thing to do? Despair is quite a justified response to reality. So is even fear, depression and paralysis. I wonder what is worse – ignoring the fact that our society and culture is heading for a cliff, or feeling uncomfortable and down? I ask myself – can I be grown up enough to care more about what is happening than how I feel?
Facing into the facts, we might be able to access our own inventiveness, creativity and human strength to a degree we don’t understand yet – not just to solve technological problems, but to discover a way of being alive that is stronger, more inclusive, more connected to each other, to the world around us and to what is inside our own being.
Like many terminally ill people have described, finally facing the fact of their death has made them feel closer to their loved ones, has shown the pettiness of many of their grudges or pastimes and made them more appreciative of the gifts others have to share.
This has been my experience. I am quite a judgmental character, sometimes unforgiving, controlling and impatient and somewhat willfully independent. Educating myself on climate change strangely has raised my appreciation of others, of diversity. It makes me realize how dependent we are on each other and how limited each of our life experience is in isolation – yet, together, we can form a rich and powerful orchestra.
If we decide to focus on what it means to be human, we might rescue the most important things we profess to hold dear for an uncertain future – relationships, love, depth, care, appreciation for each other and the natural and cultural world that surround us.
Uli Nagel is a Pilates instructor by trade, and an activist researcher and writer. Since 2015 she has been educating herself more thoroughly about the climate crisis. Coming from a background of individual and collective spiritual practice she is looking for the light coming through the cracks of our current systems. (Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for your song from Judy’s last post)