“No feeling is final”: Mindful resilience and growth in a time of crisis

~Written by Julia Wallond ~
Supervisor and Retreat Leader for The Mindfulness Network

This blog post is part of a series exploring the relationship between practice and action in the face of climate change; how can these work together to guide, inspire and support us? 

I have always loved nature; the clear light skies of autumn, crunching through fallen leaves, the crisp cold of delicately frosted plants, the hopeful urge of daffodils in spring and lying in golden flower meadows of summer. I was privileged to grow up in a safe middle-class neighbourhood in a post-industrial town, with the familiar rhythm of the seasons. I could see local problems with litter, car pollution, and social problems in parts of the town, but I was lucky to experience the world as a safe place.

As a young adult other challenges arose on the personal front, and I felt more distant from the natural world and I have to say also from myself. In a period of stress in my early years as a doctor a friend gave me a little pamphlet on mindful walking meditation by Thich Naht Hanh. This initiated a rich path of discovery in mindfulness-based meditation which has nourished me to this day. Being gifted a body that can walk on this precious earth is still, and increasingly, a blessing and a wonder. Opening, as best I can, in meditation to a sense of mystery in the play of life, unfolding and arising from conditions, brings some spaciousness and room for creative responses.

Never the less, the heartbreak of a world with so much suffering that is becoming more and more visible is often hard to bear, and hard to open to. The severity of the destruction of the fires in Australia struck me almost as a body blow. I have also been becoming more aware of the increasing poverty in our own country where many people are struggling to meet their basic needs while at the same time inequality and extreme wealth for a few is growing. I have encountered the severe traumas of refugees, seeking solace in a country that sets up so many barriers to entry and refuge. There is wisdom in knowing how much one can bear, but also I have discovered that heartbreak, with the support of practice, can soften the heart and over time encourage it to grow bigger, hold more, and become less fearful of suffering.

“A heart that is fully broken open can hold the whole world” – Joanna Macy

Practices such as gratitude and appreciation can be very nourishing and remind us of what is good, lovely and supportive to our lives, including our dependence on, and gifts from, the non-human natural world. Regularly replenishing reserves of mindful awareness of body and breath, including the spaciousness that comes with letting go from my ideas to gently hold and work with what is unfolding moment by moment has been a bedrock of sanity for me, and has become a significant refuge. Within practice I see more easily the tendency of wanting to solve the crises, as if I could single-handedly sort them out. Righteous anger is tricky! Within it I see compassionate care, and dampening its strength it feels unhelpful, but what I don’t necessarily see is that the anger blinds me to the complexities of the situation, and my own capacities. This for me is a work in progress but is been helpful to learn ways of respecting such anger, while also trying to hold it with care and compassion. The urge to project blame onto certain people is strong but the view that we are all embedded within systems that go back in time and beyond any one person is helpful.

Another view I find supportive is that it is not for me to ‘solve’ our crises, but my task is to have faith and courage to play my part whatever that is. An indigenous practice I have learnt invites me to go on a ‘medicine walk’ opening my heart and mind to the natural world to ask how I can serve, what might it be asking from me? It requires some humility and can take time to establish a relationship where nature can ‘speak’, but also it feels like this is a point at which some healing of our world can happen, through restoration of respectful relationship.

Over recent years I have been surprised to find myself combining work as GP and mindfulness teacher with climate activism, making choices to go where my interest and energy leads. I took small experimental steps with marches and activist cycle rides, and then found myself attending direct actions with Reclaim the Power and Extinction Rebellion. More recently I have also been participating in local community regeneration groups. I have discovered, like many others, that acting in alignment with one’s values brings energy and is almost always hugely enjoyable, even in the face of such immense challenge.

I feel honoured to be invited to participate in holding a retreat where we can, with the support of mindfulness and compassion practices, explore questions that I hope will help us live and act more fully in these times. Questions like “what helps me not to shut down in fear? How can I respond to anxiety creatively? What would help bring loving care more fully into the world? What might help extend the range of my compassion? What might the world be calling from me in these times?”

There is power in creating communities that can explore this kind of territory together, a solidarity and friendship we take away with us after the retreat, that strengthens that part of ourselves that cares, and can support action, whatever each of us might feel called to, while still holding ambiguity and openness. You are very welcome to join us and it would be a great pleasure to see you there.

Our Work Is Loving the World: Responding to the climate emergency with clarity, care and compassionate action

When: 31 May 2020 – 04 Jun 2020
Where: EarthSpirit Centre, Somerset
Tutors: Colette Power, Bridgette O’Neill, Julia Wallond
There are places available on this event: Application form and fees

“No feeling is final” is taken from the poem by Rainer Marie Rilke “Go to the limits of your longing”.

Joanna Macy is the co-author of ‘The Work that Reconnects’, a series of workshop practices to empower action in service of the Earth.

Julia Wallond is a part time GP in West Wales, mindfulness supervisor, and Work that Reconnects facilitator and trainee in the Bodhi College dharma teacher training programme.

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