The 12 Steps for Climate Grief: Steps 4–6
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 4: Honor Your Own Mortality and the Mortality of All
The avoidance of death is worse than death itself.
All around us in nature, there is as much death as there is life-for life feeds on death. And we are a part of that same cycle. We will all of us, one day, die and feed other forms of life.
We instinctively turn away from this truth. And we engage in myriad strategies, both individually and collectively, to distract ourselves from this reality. Conspicuous consumption is one of the many examples of what Ernest Becker calls “immortality projects,” the ways in which we rage against the dying of the light. Ironically, this consumption only hastens our deaths-both individually and collectively.
We must confront our death while we are alive-not just our individual deaths, but also the inevitable death of our civilization and the death of the human species, among countless more species. Facing the truth that our world will end one day can cause us love the world even more, just as remembering that our friends and family won’t live forever can cause us us to love them even more.
And what do we do for the people we love? We try to lessen their suffering. We try to deepen our connections with them in the time we have left. And we mourn them when they are gone.
Step 5: Let Yourself Feel All Your Feelings
That which you resist persists.
-- Carl Jung
Our culture pathologizes so-called “negative” emotions, like grief and anger. This is true of many activist spaces, as well.
As a result we suppress those emotions, rather than letting them flow freely through us. We avoid them by engaging in various activities to distract ourselves. And we project them onto other people.
There’s no such thing as a “negative” emotion or an emotion that is wrong or unproductive or unhealthy. Emotions just are. It’s what we do with our emotions which can be healthy or unhealthy. Ironically, many of our problems come, not from our feelings, but from not suppressing, avoiding, or projecting them.
Rather than fighting against them, we need to let ourselves feel all our feelings, knowing, as Rilke said, that “no feeling is final.” Jem Bendell exemplified this embrace of difficult emotions in his 2019 speech at the launch of Extinction Rebellion in Oxford Circus:
The truth is we are scared and we are brave enough to say so. The truth is we are grieving and we are proud enough to say so. The truth is we are traumatised and we are open enough to say so. We are angry and we are calm enough to say so and invite others to join us. And though we are uncertain, we are smart enough to say so.
-- Jem Bendell
Step 6: Withdraw Your Projections from Others
A person who is brave enough to withdraw all their projections knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in themselves.
-- Carl Jung
Our Shadow is any aspect of our personality that we are unaware of, especially those that we are unwilling to consciously accept. This is different than the parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of. To be ashamed of something, we must be conscious of it. Our Shadow resides in the unconscious, which means we are not conscious of it. And it exercises power over our lives precisely because we are unconscious of it.
How then are we to become conscious of our Shadow? Shadow work cannot be done alone. Other people can help us with this, including therapists and trusted friends. But since we project our Shadow onto people who we do not like. it is our enemies, more than our friends, who help us bring the Shadow into the light.
This includes those people whom we blame from the climate catastrophe, like big banks, oil executives, corrupt politicians, and climate change deniers. Our anger probably is justified. However, the intensity of anger may be a projection, masking guilt, shame, or anger at ourselves.
We can engage in Shadow work by meditating on those people who we do not like, especially people for whom we have a dislike which seems out of proportion to the real negative attributes of the person, and considering what part of them lives in us. In addition to projecting our Shadow onto people, we can also project it onto negative events, events which we experience as unfortunate, but which we have in fact brought upon ourselves.
To be continued …