Climate grief is real.  I can tell you I’ve been experiencing my own version of it for over 12 years.  The first moment I felt it is when I saw a film called “Chasing Ice” by a Boulder film maker, James Balog in 2012 that showed the glaciers in Alaska, the ones I had seen while traveling with my family in 1968, melting with great speed.  It brought tears of anguish to my eyes and I was stopped in my tracks.  I was overwhelmed with the pain of the beautiful world that I dearly love unraveling in this huge climate catastrophe that was really happening.  I have been in process since then in a variety of ways to try to find and move into action —what I feel is my path for working for the Earth and all living beings. 

What about you?  Can you identify when you have felt climate grief in your own life and how you have dealt with it?

Here’s some ways Climate Grief can show up for you:  When you look at the sunset, the morning sky, the birds, the streams and lakes, the trees,  anything in nature you can connect with deeply as you experience their moment-by-moment presence, do you feel your emotions are triggered?  Do you long for the simplicity of what the world was like when it was more stable?  Do the shifts of temperature and additional wind that we are dealing with here in Colorado cause you to get angry, anxious, hypervigiliant, or bring up past traumas (fire, trees falling on houses, previous injuries you have endured)? When you travel, do you notice changes that upset you?

Make a list of what you are noticing in yourself and stay curious.  You’ll see why in a minute. 

Since 2012,  I have tried to reckon with what I can do to help with Climate Change.  This is the biggest hurdle for all of us—Learning about how to get into action—because taking regular action is the key to feeling better and less anxious each and every day. I learned this from Joanna Macy, the Buddhist Systems Thinker and Activist, author of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy and The Work that Reconnects. She is 95 and her work is still guiding all of us to find our own personal path of action in the world that will coalesce into healing the Earth.  In Active Hope she teaches that we must start with ourselves.  We must change ourselves so that we are strong enough to fully contribute to this great shift.  

 “Active Hope is not wishful thinking.  Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued.  Active hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to the world.  The web of life is calling us forth at this time…Active Hope is the readiness to engage.” (p. 35)

Her Spiral is the way we engage in this personal process to find our path forward at this perilous time she calls “The Great Turning” when we turn away from “Business as Usual” thinking in our capitalistic world to a more interconnected understanding of deep compassion for all living things.  The Great Turning involves 3 dimensions: 1) Holding Actions, 2) Re-design of our Life-Sustaining Systems & Practices, 3) Shift in personal consciousness to a more connected self.  Working the Spiral is the process by which I was able to find much comfort and personal strength to move forward with my climate work.  I learned from this transformational model more about how transformation works and began to apply it to my own healing process.  

The SPIRAL offers a transformational journey that deepens our capacity to act for the sake of life on the Earth. When I participated in a 3 day Work that Reconnects Workshop in 2016 led by Joanna and 2 of her facilitators, I was deeply moved by each stage of the process.  Stage 1 is Coming from Gratitude: “a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation of life.” (Robert Emmons’ definition). Macy says Gratitude practices promotes a sense of well being and gives you “psychological buoyancy” to maintain your balance, strength and poise in difficult waters.  From this calm container, we learn to deal with our most difficult feelings.  

Stage 2 is Honoring our Pain for the World.  I was trained as a systems thinking in my Social Work program and DU.  Systems Thinking teaches us that there are many causes for any one thing and many outcomes that can also arise within a system. Human systems are complex and so when we study them we learn that in order for emotions and life to flow through our bodies freely, we must keep the system open.  Joanna incorporated this awareness and knowledge into her Spiral by realizing that if we do not allow ourselves to acknowledge our pain for the world, our deepest fears and despair, we are blocking our systems and closing down our capacity for healing.  This also applies to the Earth.  Because we are all living systems, all the beings in the world are great examples for us to see that rebirth and creativity are the key ingredients for coming out of death to new life again. If we use the models of our natural system, we can learn how to overcome this climate disaster we have created.  The cycle of life requires that we have open systems from which we can renew life again after darkness and pain.  Where do our systems get stuck?  With our hearts.

Honoring our Pain is allowing ourselves to grieve and feel our feelings deeply.  Grieving is not an easy thing to do!  But, it is essential to allowing our imagination and creativity to stay available to us in our living systems.  The “Blocked Response” is what Joanna says we are doing to avoid feeling the danger and alarm in response to our planet emergency.  The Work that Reconnects tells us that this pain can be a range of feelings from outrage, alarm, grief, guilt, dread, despair, anger — and all are healthy and normal responses to a world in trauma.  When we allow ourselves to have compassion for ourselves and all beings, to suffer with, we are opening our blocked systems to allow information, feedback and energy to flow freely and this compassion allows us to respond to this crisis.  

Stage 3 is Seeing with New Eyes and Stage 4 is Going Forth.  These next two stages are worth reading about and working for yourself.  The completion of the Spiral shows us what can happen when we go into our deepest fear and pain and feel it fully. We are transformed and we are open to a different way of being with each other in this world. This is profound teaching embedded with Buddhist concepts of Deep Time or the Ancestral Path where we all meet deeply in continuous life.  I teach about this sense of selflessness, interconnectedness and communal healing.  We are ready, when we do this deep inner work, to open ourselves in deep compassion for so much more and we find an “emergence in this connected consciousness.”  Emergence, a systems theory term, is what happens when we all find our paths forward and are in action working towards healing globally.  We will bring forth a global change process that will create the shifts we need to survive and heal our planet.  This brings me hope.

So, as we approach Earth Day, I begin to see more people engaging with their climate grief.  Some are pushing it away and diving forward blindly doing something.  Others are avoiding it entirely, but can’t escape the inevitable guilt that lingers that just creates more of a blocked response.  But, what I would hope for you and as many folks as I can talk to, is to start with yourself and look within. Be curious about how you are responding emotionally and behaviorally  to our climate catastrophe.  Our feelings drive a lot of our behavior and this is no exception.  What if you took a moment to examine your Pain for the World? 

Here’s three questions you can ask yourself, slowly, and write your answers.  Or, do this with a friend and practice Deep Listening with each other, taking turns to hear each other deeply without responding.  

1.  When I think about the condition of our world, I would say things are getting….

 2.  Some concerns I have include…

 3.  Some feelings that come up when I think about these are…

 4.  What I do with these feelings are…..

—Taken from Active Hope, (72-73)


If you would like to engage in an Active Hope 3-hour workshop or like to organize one for a community you are involved in, please contact me at  I can facilitate these and would love to guide you through this powerful Spiral.